EPA proposes sewage dumping fine for Juneau

Posted: Monday, September 11, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a $60,000 fine Monday against the city of Juneau for dumping raw and inadequately treated sewage into the Mendenhall River and Gastineau Channel last year.

The federal agency's complaint also accused the city of faulty operations at the sewage treatment plan that caused sewage to back up into the homes of some residents in November of 1999.

According to the federal agency's complaint, the city committed repeated violations of the Clean Water Act from June to November of 1999. Monitoring reports from the plant itself show fecal coliform bacteria exceeded legal limits by as much as 437,000 percent, according to the complaint.

''When you consider the particularly nasty organisms that are found in raw sewage, you realize that it's release is a significant public health concern,'' said Bub Loiselle, manager of the EPA's water permit compliance unit in Seattle.

The city has 30 days to respond to the administrative complaint. If the city and the EPA do not reach a settlement, the case will go before an administrative law judge, said Loiselle.

City Manager Dave Palmer said most of the complaint seems to stem from a single incident last November.

''The sewage backed up to the point where it started to flow into the basements of some houses,'' Palmer said, adding that the problem was caused by a combination of power failures, alarm failures and operational mistakes.

Since then, the city has poured money and manpower into fixing those problems in an effort the EPA apparently didn't take into consideration, Palmer said.

''From the time this happened almost a year ago, we have taken care of the folks that were hurt, Palmer said. ''We have cleaned up the area. we've spent a significant amount of money to make sure it doesn't happen again.''

The city's treatment plant is on the Mendenhall River just upstream from Gastineau Channel and the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, areas popular with local fishermen and hunters.

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