City in compliance with environmental rules' enforcement

Friday, January 6, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Faced with the prospect of another civil penalty for violation of regulations to prevent water pollution, Lewisburg's concerted efforts have resulted in a letter last month from the state thanking the city for its cooperation.

In a "compliance assessment report" dated Dec. 20, Scott Howell, an environmental specialist working at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Field Office in Columbia, described improvements to the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) program here.

Stormwater control prevents sedimentation - silt settling on streambeds - that smother aquatic life. On Feb. 24, TDEC ordered Lewisburg to comply with laws promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as directed by Congress under the Clean Water Act first passed in 1972. The Feb. 24 order was in addition to a follow-up order stemming from an agreement in 2009. While record-keeping and public education programs were among some of the failings of the city's stormwater program, the office was to be sure that construction sites and broad areas of pavement didn't discharge rushing muddy water from construction sites or petroleum grime carried by rain-washed parking lots to streams, creeks or rivers.

On Dec. 14, Howell met with Lewisburg Stormwater Director Joe "Buck" Beard and the city's consulting engineer, Jim Patterson, environmental manager for St. John Engineering of Manchester, Tenn., regarding a TDEC order issued in 2009. The order stems from an agreement the city struck with the state to avoid a substantial civil penalty. Compliance instead of punishment has been a goal stated as a preference for various state departments.

"Based on these discussions" with Beard and Patterson on Dec. 14, Howell wrote, "the program (in Lewisburg) seems to be on track for its various first year goals within each section" of the 2009 Agreed Order that included a $10,000 civil penalty that was reduced to $9,000 as negotiated by then-City Attorney Bill Haywood.

Lewisburg "also appears to have completed its corrective action plan that was a result of the 2009 order," Howell wrote.

On Dec. 28, Beard released Howell's letter addressed to Mayor Barbara Woods and that morning Patterson provided a direct analysis of its meaning.

"The city is no longer on the line for any additional penalty," the consulting engineer said.

TDEC fines, depending on the nature of the case and order, have been known to be as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they usually include opportunities for remediation that will nullify an increasing schedule of assessments if there is noncompliance.

It is confirmation that the city is doing what it's supposed to be doing with regard to environmental protections against the effect of stormwater carrying pollutants as it drains to streams, creeks and rivers, Patterson said.

During more than two years since TDEC's first order for city compliance, Lewisburg has had four men assigned to address stormwater issues: R.L. Williams, Corey Pleas, Greg Lowe and now Beard.

"There's still a lot to do under the new permit," Patterson said in a reference to a TDEC-issued National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for stormwater drainage.

Meanwhile, Lewisburg has an NPDES permit for its sewage treatment plant where current construction is to double the plant's capacity to treat wastewater. That $13-million project includes a holding tank some 32 feet high with a diameter of 250 feet. Raw sewage flowing to the plant is diluted, as it is in nearly every city, by stormwater seeping into sewers.