Leader Blues

Friday, December 05, 2008

TOP STORY > >Sewer repairs could cost city millions

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has lost its patience with the city of Sherwood. According to state inspection reports by the ADEQ dating back to at least 2004, discharges of pollutants from the city’s two sewer treatment facilities are at unacceptably high levels.

City engineer Ellen Norvell inherited the problem when she was hired a few months ago.

On Thursday, at a specially convened meeting of the city council, she laid out the timeline for getting the plants back in compliance with the state, a project that could cost the city between $2 million and $7 million.

State inspectors lost their patience in December 2007, when they made a visit to the treatment facilities and found that problems cited in 2004 had been ignored. Improper maintenance of the levees and unacceptably high levels of pollutants in treated waters discharged from the plants into neighboring waterways are the major concerns, Norvell explained.

As she spoke, she held up a state report showing a long list of the troubling substances that put Sherwood out of compliance with state and federal regulations.

The ADEQ fined Sherwood $23,300, but Norvell was able to get the amount reduced to $15,500.

Norvell does not know how long the city plants have been out of compliance, other than the fact that inspectors in 2007 referenced 2004 citations.

The ADEQ is formally lowering the boom with publication on Dec. 12 of a consent order, with an effective date of Jan. 9, Norvell said. From that day, the city will have 30 days to submit a master plan to ADEQ outlining its plan for addressing problems with the waste water system.

In anticipation of that, Norvell, at the upcoming Sherwood City Council meeting, will recommend Crist Engineering of Little Rock to evaluate the entire waste water system and craft a plan to rehab the plants.

“We need to know if the system is adequate, and it has got to have a detailed schedule to get ADEQ’s blessing – a complete evaluation of the sewer lines,” Norvell said. “We have got to get ADEQ’s confidence back up that we are taking this consent order seriously.”

Norvell hopes that ADEQ will allow the city some latitude in how quickly the repairs are made.

“We hope to stretch them out over several years,” she said. “We want to be sure we do what is needed and not have to make the repairs more than once, but that is our goal. We don’t want to be responsible for polluting.”

Officials sounded optimistic that funds could be found to pay for the improvements, but agreed that Sherwood residents might have to help shoulder some of the cost. No one at the meeting could recall the last rate increase for sewerage treatment.

The conclusion was that it was a decade or more ago.