State imposes fines for 2005 sewer spill

$48,000 to Peanut Mine work

After extensive negotiations, the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District has reached a settlement agreement with the state regarding an unreported wastewater spill two years ago.

 


After extensive negotiations, the Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District has reached a settlement agreement with the state regarding an unreported wastewater spill two years ago.
In the agreement the District must pay civic penalties of $16,000 and must provide funding for remediation work at the Peanut Mine to the tune of $48,000. The settlement also requires the District to install a sewage monitoring and alarm notification system.
A public comment period before final approval of the settlement began on March 21 and ends on April 20. District manager Frank Glick says, “The negotiations between the state and ourselves have gone on for some time. The only thing left is the comment period.”
The settlement is the result of a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment investigation into an unreported wastewater spill two years ago, and other spills. By failing to report the spill, the District violated their wastewater discharge permit issued by the Water Quality Control Division.
According to the settlement compliance order released by the state, on December 25, 2005, a large sewage overflow occurred after an intake pipe of Mt. Crested Butte’s sewer system was 90 percent blocked by a log, PVC pipe and construction debris.
The sewage backed up and the District was unable to divert the flow around the blocked pipe fast enough. Four hundred thousand gallons of untreated sewage was released from a manhole on Gothic Road.
The District failed to immediately notify the state Department of Public Health and Environment and the incident was reported to the state by a third party 17 days later. The District filed its official notice on January 11, 2006.
In its investigation, the state took other sewage spills into consideration. According to the compliance order released by the state, a sewer overflow occurred five days before the unreported spill, releasing 100,000 gallons of sewage. Another spill occurred on September 12, 2005, when 250,000 gallons were released.
Following the December 2005 spills, there was another spill on December 10, 2006, and another on February 12, 2007, both instances releasing 500 gallons. With the exception of the December 2005 spills, all other spills were properly reported and mitigated.
High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA) water quality director Steve Glazer says the state is required to negotiate a settlement with the District before initiating a lawsuit, a process that began nearly two years ago. HCCA is a local non-profit environmental organization.
Before the settlement agreement was reached, the District was aware that they would be required to install some kind of sewage monitoring and alarm system, according to Glick. This winter the District has been busy selecting a type of monitoring system, hiring engineers, and generally getting the system ready for a spring or summer installation. The state is requiring the District to begin construction before July. After a year the District will have to compile a report of the system’s effectiveness.
Glick says the monitors and alarm system will cost a little over $94,000.
“They’re going to monitor the rise and fall of flows through the manholes, and based on set points there is going to be an alarm. They’re also equipped to detect if somebody is opening a manhole that shouldn’t be.” Glick says.
He says the system will work much like a household burglar alarm, where a central processing center monitors the flows and can send e-mail and text message alerts to District employees via cell phone. Glick says they can also monitor the flows at the District office’s computer.
In addition to the monitoring system, the District must also pay a variety of fines. According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Compliance Assurance Section manager Lori Gerzin, the state has a fine policy that allows for a beneficial environmental project to be substituted for violations where a financial penalty may be given.
Gerzin says the policy allows a violator to pay a fine in the form of funding some type of environmentally beneficial project, which can be for research, resource conservation, cleanup, or a variety of other projects.
The District Board made a supplemental environmental project offer to the state Department of Health and Environment on May 8, 2007. This proposal included $48,108 to the Crested Butte Land Trust for cleanup work at the Peanut Mine, and $16,036 to the state for a civil penalty. Nearly a year later, the state has accepted the offer.
The Peanut Mine is a defunct mine site about a mile north of Crested Butte, on the slopes of Mt. Emmons along the Lower Loop trail system.
Peanut Mine, Inc. was created by a group of concerned citizens to find funding and organize cleanup and remediation work at the mine.
Peanut Mine, Inc. president Jim Starr says he was contacted by the District’s attorney regarding the offer. “They indicated they were going to be fined by the state and they had the opportunity to utilize the funds locally for a project that will help preserve our high water quality,” Starr says. “We got the Peanut Mine board together and agreed it would be a great way to get some funding to finish up reclamation at the Peanut Mine site.”
The final act of remediation involves removing and containing contaminates in the dirt roadways surrounding the mine, as well as the installation of a special culvert to divert wastewater from traveled areas. “It’s on the road that goes through the mine site that everyone walks on as part of the Lower Loop,” Starr says.
Starr says the improvements will help the aesthetics of the site, and the quality of stormwater and runoff that flows away from it. “We really appreciate the Water District thinking about helping us finish this reclamation project,” Starr says.
Starr says the project shouldn’t take more than a few weeks, and believes the Lower Loop trail will still be open to public access during the time.
Between fines and monitors, the District will be spending nearly $150,000, which Glick says will be taken out of the District’s general funds. “We didn’t raise rates or anything on account of this,” he says.
Before the settlement agreement is finalized, a 30 -day public comment period must pass. If there are significant comments the Division will consider whether to re-open the investigation Glazer says. “It’s not an automatic decision. The public has a chance to weigh in,” Glazer says.
Glazer says one of the things that bothers him about the sewer spills is the poor public notification on behalf of the District and the state.
He says the District is only required to notify the state of a sewer spill, but believes there should be a requirement for notifying the public.
Glazer says after the December 2005 spills, only one water supplier was notified by the state, the Dos Rios subdivision near Gunnison. “Their diversion point is 28 miles downstream. What about the people who draw water from irrigation ditches? What about the small subdivisions with public wells? Where is the requirement they be notified so they can start purifying their water? Where is the requirement that an emergency response team be notified? Well it’s not in there,” Glazer says
Glazer says if the public is concerned about unreported sewage spills, this is an important time to make comments. He says between local municipalities, county, state and federal government agencies, “Their compliance regulations are all complaint-driven. They don’t have the people to go out there and do inspections to make sure everything is in compliance.”
The comment period ends on April 20. Comments can be sent to CDPHE, WQCD-CADM-B2, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530; or by calling 1-(800)-886-7689.

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