BRANDON — The town has agreed to pay a fine imposed on it by the Agency of Natural Resources over a broken pipe that saw 3 million gallons of untreated sewage go into the Neshobe River.
The Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation announced Wednesday it fined the town $12,000 for the discharge, as well as failing to report the problem within the time frame required by law.
According to a statement from ANR, on Feb. 22, 2018, a sewer line under the Neshobe River ruptured. ANR said the pipe was installed decades prior and had last been inspected between 2011 and 2013. Erosion led to the pipe being exposed, which led to the pipe being damaged. This caused untreated sewage to enter the river, and for river water to back up into the water treatment facility, further affecting water treatment.
The ANR claims a “nonfunctioning” alarm failed to notify Brandon town employees of the problem, though they did see there was high water flow at the facility on Feb. 22 and they did investigate this. ANR claims the town didn’t notify the Department of Environmental Conservation of a problem until March 6, 2018, when the break in the line was discovered.
Waste water treatment facility operators must notify DEC within 24 hours after they discover an improper waste water discharge, according to ANR.
Brandon Town Manager Dave Atherton said Wednesday in a phone interview that once the highflow was noticed at the facility, efforts were undertaken immediately to find the cause. He said usually a high flow is the result of a pipe being infiltrated, not breached. A number of pipe issues were found and fixed, but the flow problem continued until the broken pipe under the river was discovered.
Atherton said natural erosion exposed the pipe and the river did the rest. The problem occurred while ice was still on the river, making the procedure a difficult one.
“It was a bad time of year to be dealing with this,” he said. “Once we identified the problem, we had it fixed within 48 hours, but they had to fine us for something.”
Atherton said ANR initially wanted to fine the town more than $30,000, but after some discussion, the $12,000 was settled upon. Atherton said fighting it any further would’ve likely cost the town more than that in legal fees, so this felt like the wisest course.
“Vermont’s aging municipal wastewater treatment facilities and sewer systems present many challenges for operators and customers,” said Emily Boedecker, DEC commissioner, in a statement. “It is critical that operaters take all necessary measures to minimize the potential for and damage from accidental releases, including performing routine inspections, testing alarms and promptly notifying DEC when compliance issues arise. Timely notification not only ensures that public health concerns can be addressed, but also enables the Department to ensure that facilities promptly identify and resolve the underlying problem.”