Berkeley County Public Sewer Service District "stymied" in effort to complete upgrades

September 02, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Public Sewer Service District this week claimed "moving targets" that the state set for effluent discharge standards "repeatedly stymied" the utility's effort to design and complete sewage treatment upgrades.

"In the past five years, the District has been challenged with constantly changing and increasingly stringent effluent discharge requirements imposed by the West Virginia Department of Protection, including requirements related to the federal Chesapeake Bay initiative," sewer district officials said in a position paper released Thursday.

"Many of the alleged violations relate to facilities ... which are not subject to the performance standards alleged by the DEP," the district said in the two-page document sent to the Berkeley County Council on Wednesday.

The DEP's lawsuit claims the sewer district committed more than 1,000 violations of the state Water Pollution Control Act between 2007 and February 2011, according to court documents.

The sewer district has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit in Berkeley County Circuit Court, but released the position paper in response to concerns aired by council members.

The council had requested a closed-door session with sewer district officials to discuss the lawsuit, but it declined. Sewer district general counsel William F. Rohrbaugh said in a letter to council attorney Norwood Bentley III that the proposed executive session could not be held in accordance with the state's Open Governmental Proceedings Act because the council was not a party or named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Rohrbaugh also said any discussions with council members could become part of the litigation because they would not be protected under attorney/client privilege or evidentiary privilege.

The DEP's lawsuit asks the Circuit Court to stop the 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.

In its position paper, the sewer district asserted that many of the alleged violations in the DEP complaint relate to facilities that require capital improvements to comply with the state requirements, including the Chesapeake Bay initiative.

The district also noted that the DEP encouraged the utility to take ownership of small waste treatment facilities known as "package" plants, which were moves that placed a strain on its "limited" resources.

The sewer district said in the position paper that it operates and maintains four "major" wastewater treatment facilities, an industrial pre-treatment facility, 10 package plants, more than 220 pump stations and about 400 miles of gravity and pressurized pipelines.

The district, the second largest utility of its kind in the state, serves nearly 20,000 customers in the county, including businesses in six industrial parks.

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