PSD under scrutiny from DEP, EPA
The Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) board finds itself under the microscope as it works toward a sewage solution for the Snowshoe area.
Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) notified the PSD that they are concerned with the utility's progress and continued violations of water discharge standards.
The PSD's sewage plants regularly exceed water pollution limits specified in the utility's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. In July, the PSD reported three violations at the Snowshoe Village plant: two for excess aluminum and one for percent suspended solids removal.
After the PSD accepted ownership of Snowshoe Water and Sewer, Inc.'s sewer plants in December, 2008, the DEP allowed the PSD to operate under less-stringent standards that had been negotiated with Snowshoe and incorporated into a consent decree.
During the last six months, the PSD and its attorney, Tom Michael, attempted to negotiate a new consent agreement with the DEP. A draft agreement was written, but the DEP is no longer willing to negotiate.
DEP chief inspector Mike Zeto wrote to the PSD on July 29, informing the board that DEP was withdrawing consideration of the draft consent order. Zeto's letter, addressed to PSD chairman Mark Smith, reads in part:
"Given the ongoing uncertainty and absence of substantive progress with Pocahontas County PSD's proposed wastewater treatment facility, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is immediately withdrawing Draft Order 7006 from further consideration."
Zeto's letter states that PSD disputes regarding "various aspects of engineering for the project" could jeopardize project funding and that the DEP and EPA are evaluating enforcement options.
"WVDEP will evaluate alternative enforcement options with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (see attached letter) to address the Pocahontas County PSD's continuous and ongoing noncompliance with its WVINPDES permits," the letter reads in part.
The DEP can issue fines as much as $10,000 per day for water discharge violations without a civil action. If it prevails in a civil action in circuit court, the DEP can recover as much as $25,000 per day in fines.
Any fine imposed on the PSD would be passed along to PSD ratepayers, the sole source of PSD income.
On March 4, EPA regional enforcement chief Martin Harrell wrote to Michael (the attached letter to which Zeto's letter refers). Harrell's letter reads in part:
"In consultation with the state, I wanted to let you know that EPA plans to monitor closely your client's progress with the upgrades. Should we see evidence that your client is not making satisfactory progress, EPA will have no choice but to become more involved in this matter."
The attention from the DEP and EPA comes at a time of strong public opposition to the PSD's plan to build a $26 million sewage plant on Snowshoe Drive.
The Snowshoe Property Owners Council (SPOC), representing approximately one-half of PSD sewage customers, and many other area residents support an alternative sewage system designed by engineer David Rigby, which they claim would cost approximately $14 million and greatly reduce their anticipated rate increase.
Rigby, president of Waste Water Management, Inc., will discuss his alternative plan at a public meeting scheduled for August 14, 2:30 p.m. at Mountain Lodge at Snowshoe. SPOC member David Litsey, lead proponent of the Rigby plan, attended the August 3 county commission meeting and invited the commissioners to attend.ﾠ
Supporters of Thrasher Engineering's plan argue that selecting a new alternative, after years of planning and public debate, would require new funding requests, new engineering and set the project back by years, as the PSD's existing plants continue to pollute the Elk River watershed.
Rigby plan supporters respond that interim measures could be taken to mitigate discharge violations as the Rigby system is reviewed, approved, funded and built.
The PSD held a special meeting on August 6 to approve a response letter to DEP's withdrawal of consideration of a consent order. The letter, addressed to Zeto, requests that DEP reconsider the withdrawal and lists a number of actions the PSD has taken toward a regional sewage solution.
Those actions, recited by board president Mark Smith as he read the draft letter, included: selection of a site for the proposed sewage plant; submission of a revised facilities plan to the DEP; acquisition of an option on land necessary for the plant; submission of a karst study to the DEP; submission of an internal engineering review of the Rigby plan to the DEP and approval of a capital improvement plan, including expenditure of "several hundred thousand dollars," for upgrades to address compliance issues.
"All of these steps have been taken in the context of vigorous public debate," Smith read from the letter. "The next step in the process is the completion of the review of the facilities plan by the DEP. The PSD remains committed to Site 7 as the preferred alternative for the wastewater treatment plant site. It is true that this selection is supported by two board members and opposed by the third. Nonetheless, all three board members are firmly committed to seeking a solution to the inability of the current treatment system to meet permit limits."
After Smith read the letter the board unanimously approved sending it to the DEP.ﾠ
The next PSD regular meeting is scheduled for August 31, 7 p.m. at the PSD Linwood office.