EPA Charges Johnston With Discharging Untreated Sewage into Rivers, Wetlands

Monday, December 05, 2016


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The EPA has charged Johnston with violating the Clean Water Act. (Photo:CreativeCommonsKateBoicourt)

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that the Town of Johnston violated the Clean Water Act by discharging untreated sewage into rivers and wetlands — and has issued an order for compliance with the town, including a schedule of reporting and notification deadlines the town must meet to the EPA moving forward.

“The Town has discharged untreated sewage from the Collection System to the Woonasquatucket River, Assapumsett Brook, the Pocasset River, and associated wetlands and tributaries of these systems without authorization of a NPDES permit…untreated sewage contains pollutants, as defined in Sections 502(6) and 12 of the Act, including fecal coliform and entericocci bacteria,” wrote the EPA in its "Findings of Violation and Order for Compliance of Consent."

In a letter dated November 22 to Johnston town lawyer William Conley, EPA Senior Enforcement Counsel Tonia Bandrowicz sent the fourteen page executed Administrative Order of Compliance, which included an outline of action items the town must complete. 

Press inquiries into Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and the EPA regarding the matter were not responded to on Sunday.

SLIDES: See EPA Order of Compliance BELOW

The EPA in its compliance order noted that in June 2008, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued a notice of deficiency to Johnston for past overflows of raw sewage from the Collection System to waters of the State via local storm water flow, in violation of applicable state law -- and that the town’s unauthorized discharges from non-permitted outfalls to waters of the United States from the Collection System violate Section 301(a) of the [Clean Water] Act. 

Now, the EPA's action -- and enforcement --  comes eight years later.

“That was a big shock when I saw this,” said Jean Lynch, a Johnston resident, of obtaining the letter. “We’ve had to do thousands of dollars of works on our home.”

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The Woonasquatucket, which starts North Smithfield, makes its way through Johnston to Providence. (Photo: CreativeCommonsPauk)

Lynch noted that a larger line installed by the Narragansett Bay Commission adjacent to her neighborhood on Salina Avenue appeared have had no issues, but that the continued backups and overflow on her street, which is part of the town wastewater collection system, have been continuous. 

“The Narragansett Bay Commission is fantastic, but they could only check here the best they could, their pipes are much bigger,” said Lynch. “When there’s been overflow, it’s gone into the streets — and that goes to the wetlands.”

“I bawled my eyes out when I saw this [letter],” said Lynch. “I’ve been fighting the town so long on this."

Town Orders

According to the Order of Compliance, the town is required to provide verbal notification to the EPA of becoming aware of any unauthorized discharge as well as a written report — including efforts by the town to stop the discharge. 

The town is ordered to develop and submit an emergency response plan to the EPA by January 31, 2017 — including an emergency 24-hour telephone number for the public to report unauthorized discharges. 

By March 31, 2017, the town is to develop and submit a “pump station assessment assessment and repair plan” including upgrades to alarm systems, as well as a “capacity, management, operation, and maintenance (CMOM) program assessment.”

By September 30, 2017, the town is to submit a “CMOM Corrective Action Plan” and “CMOM Program Manual” to EPA and RIDEM for review.

Finally, beginning on March 31, 2018, and each March 31 thereafter, the town is to submit a CMOM Program Implementation Annual Report to the EPA and RIDEM.


Related Slideshow: EPA Enforcement Johnston


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