Montpelier, Vt. – The Department of Environmental Conservation today announced the Town of Bennington is required to pay $15,000 for failing to maintain its wastewater treatment facility over the past several years. The facility’s disrepair caused foul odors and several releases of partially-treated wastewater into the Walloomsac River.
The Town of Bennington has a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to discharge treated wastewater into the Walloomsac River. Prior to discharge, units known as rotating biological contactors (RBC) biologically treat the wastewater. In the late summer of 2016, failure of two-thirds of the facility’s 32 RBC units caused discharge water to be released into the river with bacteria levels above allowable standards.
Beginning in 2015, the Town adopted a schedule to replace four RBC units annually. After eight units were replaced, three catastrophically failed, causing a cascade of failures across other units. As these mechanical, electrical, and structural problems persisted, only 10 of the 32 RBC units remained operational by the fall of 2016. In fact, eight RBC units had been intentionally decommissioned in order to supply the system with replacement parts.
Though no evidence of health or safety impacts to the river were found, the system failure put the facility at great risk of causing severe impacts to nearby waters, outdoor recreation opportunities, and public health.
“Facilities that operate on the margins of disrepair run a much greater risk of dangerously releasing untreated wastewater into rivers we use for fishing, swimming, playing,” said DEC Commissioner Emily Boedecker. “It is imperative that we hold communities responsible for ensuring their public wastewater infrastructure investments remain in good working order.”
As the result of negotiations, this matter has been settled with an Assurance of Discontinuance that was incorporated into a Judicial Order issued by the Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division, on April 21. The Order requires the Town of Bennington to pay a $15,000 penalty and to submit to Agency wastewater staff an evaluation of the current state of the facility within 60 days. This detailed analysis must address how the facility will maintain the existing RBC units so that consistent permit compliance can be maintained pending more permanent upgrades.
The Town then has an additional 60 days to submit a revised plan and schedule for replacement of the RBC units, with a public bond vote targeted for October 2017.
For more information about DEC’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, visit http://dec.vermont.gov/water.
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