EPA OKs wastewater plant limits

The city can finally move to establish a local limit for phosphorous discharge into the city’s wastewater treatment system, meaning local industry could face a monetary consequence for exceeding the number once it’s set.

Salem Utilities Commission Chairman Bob Hodgson revealed the long-awaited news during the commission meeting Tuesday afternoon, saying the state of Ohio deemed the local limit justification submitted in March 2010 as appropriate.

The state nod gives the city the ability to proceed with the action needed to establish the local limit for phosphorous discharge.

Hodgson said the next step will require the Utilities Committee of city council to present legislation to city council, then council will need to approve the legislation in three readings. He explained that during last month’s meeting, he requested staff members speak with legal counsel about contacting officials from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Attorney General’s office regarding the local limit request.

He said the setting of a local limit means the city can determine what amount will be acceptable from local industry. If the level goes over 12 milligrams per liter, the city could choose to require a surcharge paid by any company which goes over that amount. If a company went over the proposed local limit of 24 milligrams per liter, then a civil penalty

could result.

Assistant Utilities Superintendent Matt Hoopes said once council approves the local limit, the utilities department will issue a draft industrial wastewater discharge permit for each of the industries permitted as significant users, they’ll have a period to give written comment, then they’ll be required to comply.

Engineers from Burgess and Niple Inc. had completed a phosphorous discharge study a few years ago which supported justification for a local limit of 24 milligrams per liter for the amount of phosphorous permitted to be discharged into the wastewater treatment plant. Having a local limit would help the city meet a mandate by the state to reduce the amount of phosphorous in the system.

The city couldn’t limit the amount of phosphorous coming into the system from local industries without the local limit being approved by the state. The city also needs the local limit established in order to determine the design requirements for the Phase II improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, which will also help the city meet the phosphorous discharge limits set by the state.

Groundbreaking for Phase I improvements to the plant occurred in August, with the $2.7 million project slated for completion next August to improve the removal of solids and improve suspended solids compliance issues at the plant.

The phosphorous issue began in 2002 when the OEPA issued a renewal permit to the city which put a limit on the level of phosphorous the city could discharge into the Middle Fork of Little Beaver Creek.

The city appealed to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, but ERAC upheld the decision of the OEPA. The ruling was appealed again, sent back to ERAC, and ended up in court again. The city’s still waiting for a consent decree.

The OEPA is requiring a level at no more than 1 milligram per liter. Most plants average domestic levels of 12 mg/l or less of phosphorous and those levels can be reduced to the proper number chemically. In the city, there is a higher level coming into the system due to local industry.

The commission went into executive session via speaker phone with their legal counsel to discuss pending litigation. The consent decree is one of those pending actions.