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Lawsuit against Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District cites 250 "major" violations

August 19, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Citing more than 250 "major" violations, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection alleged in a lawsuit this week that the public sewer district in Berkeley County has repeatedly violated the state Water Pollution Control Act since 2007.

Filed Monday in Berkeley County Circuit Court, the lawsuit asks a Circuit Court judge to stop the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District from violating state law and a federal pollutant discharge permit program administered by the state environmental department.

The agency also has asked the court to assess civil penalties against the defendant, citing state code that provides a maximum $25,000 penalty per day for each violation, which total more than 1,000 when including moderate and minor infractions, according to the lawsuit.

Berkeley County sewer district legal counsel William F. Rohrbaugh said Friday he was not aware the lawsuit had been filed, but had heard the state was planning to file "something."

Without having an opportunity to review the complaint, Rohrbaugh said he couldn't respond to specific allegations in the four-count civil action.

Filed on behalf of Scott Mandirola, director of environmental protection's Division of Water and Waste Management, by agency attorney Jennifer L. Hughes, the case was assigned to 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III, according to court records.

The lawsuit alleges the sewer district violated the terms and conditions of four National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, which were issued to the sewer district for operation of multiple sewage collection and treatment systems countywide.

The permits placed discharge limits on the concentration and/or quantities of such pollutants as fecal-coliform bacteria, ammonia nitrogen, total suspended solids, zinc, copper, dissolved oxygen and other pollutants, the lawsuit said.

The highest number of major violations were at the Opequon/Hedgesville wastewater treatment plant, one of the sewer district's largest, and the waste-treatment system for Forest Heights subdivision in southern Berkeley County, the lawsuit said. Both plants notched 64 major violations between March 2007 and February 201.

Discharges from the Opequon/Hedgesville plant — a 1.6-million-gallon-per-day sewage collection and treatment system designed to serve 22,900 customers — flow into Eagle Run, a tributary of Opequon Creek, the lawsuit said.

The treatment system for Forest Heights, designed to serve 72 homes, discharge flows into an unnamed tributary of Buzzard Run, which also flows into Opequon Creek, the lawsuit said.

The Woods II plant was also cited for 41 major violations or "exceedances of permit limits" for pollution discharge between January 2009 and December 2010, the lawsuit said.

Discharge from the Woods II plant, designed to serve about 633 homes in the subdivision in western Berkeley County, flows into Whites Run, a tributary of Back Creek.

A double-digit number of major violations was also recorded at other wastewater plants, including Falling Waters, with 35, Inwood, 31, and the Northwind subdivision, 10,  the lawsuit said.

The violations at Falling Waters were documented between January 2008 and December 2010, while those at Northwind in the Falling Waters area occurred between January 2009 and December 2010, the lawsuit said. The Inwood violations happened between March 2007 and February 2011.

Additional wastewater treatment operations cited for major violations in the latter four-year period included plants in the North End, with two; Baker Heights, eight; the Austin mobile-home park treatment plant east of Martinsburg off W.Va. 45, five; and the Highpoint subdivision treatment plant, four, in Bunker Hill, W.Va.

Three other major violations involving industrial users that convey wastewater to Opequon/Hedgesville and Baker Heights also were noted in the lawsuit.

After being given a brief overview of the various violations highlighted in the lawsuit, Rohrbaugh said he expected the sewer district would vigorously defend itself in the case, using its records to challenge the allegations.

"It involves quite a bit of research, going back and checking the records," Rohrbaugh said.

"We've got some detective work to do, and we'll do that."

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