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City working with state to determine punishment for overflow

October 22, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

State environment officials are nearing the completion of an agreement with the City of Hagerstown that would determine punishment measures after a series of incidents in which the city's sewer system released pollutants into Antietam Creek.

Mayor William M. Breichner said Wednesday he expects the so-called consent order to be ready for public release sometime in mid-November.

"It concerns the overflow problems, the electrical (problems) and what we're doing about it," Breichner said.

Breichner said he expects there may be "some small fines" in connection with the order, although the fine amount is being negotiated.

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The order likely will set some limits on new connections to the sewer system, but it will be linked to the progress the city has made in correcting past problems, Breichner said.

City officials and Maryland Department of the Environment regulators have been working on the order since July, Breichner said.

The city's Waste Water Treatment Plant on Frederick Street has been the source of several overflows of water that has not been fully treated in the past two years.

The most recent problems occurred in mid-August, when an electric failure caused the release of more than 3 million gallons of water that had not been fully treated for bacteria.

According to state and city reports, spills into the creek of partially treated wastewater have occurred at least eight times this year, four times topping the 1 million-gallon mark.

For each release, MDE can fine the city up to $10,000.

The city has authorized hiring a new project coordinator to manage several repairs upgrades to the city's sewage treatment system.

Since September, the City Council has authorized several expenditures to improve equipment both at the plant and in the sewage collection system.

The city is in the planning stages of long-term sewer system projects. One is a $5.4 million project that would add about 13 million gallons of maximum daily pumping capacity. It is scheduled for completion by the end of next year.

An $8 million to $9 million project, scheduled to begin sometime in 2006, will rely heavily on state funding and is aimed at decreasing the amount of naturally occurring nutrients found in wastewater, a pollutant that is increasingly being targeted by environmental officials.

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