By RUSSELL JONES
A ruptured sewer line in downtown Brandon that led to over three million gallons of untreated sewage to flow directly into the Neshobe River in late February 2018 resulted in a $12,000 fine against the town.
The Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation announced the fine this past week, largely for failing to report the release to the state in a timely manner.
“This is the settlement that the selectboard agreed to a couple months ago for the March 2018 sewer line break,” Town Manager Dave Atherton said.
According to the press release from the state, in the early morning hours of Feb. 22, 2018, a section of sewer line located under the Neshobe River ruptured. The pipe, which the agency said was installed decades ago and was last inspected sometime between 2011 and 2013, likely ruptured as erosion and river migration slowly exposed and damaged the pipe. The rupture resulted in the discharge of untreated sewage directly into the Neshobe River and a flow of river water into the wastewater treatment facility that disrupted treatment processes.
“There were high flows due to spring thaw and rain, which is not unusual,” said Atherton. “The waste water plant was definitely taking in water somewhere within the collection system (sewer line) which prompted us to start looking at areas around town that would have standing water that could be infiltrating our lines through manholes or possibly a damaged line.”
The press release from the agency said that due to a nonfunctioning alarm, operators were not immediately made aware of the failure. High flow observed at the facility on February 22, 2018 triggered an investigation into the source of the river water, but the operator did not notify the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) until after discovering the ruptured pipe on March 6, 2018.
Atherton said the town did find a collapsed line in the Marble Street area and believed this was where the infiltration was coming from.
“We replaced the line and the flows did not go down, so we started inspecting other areas and discovered that there was a damaged line in the river that was taking in a lot of water,” the town manager said. “We immediately rerouted the damaged area of line with pumps and hoses and were able to get the line replaced within 48 hours.”
The DEC, in cooperation with other state, regional and national organizations, provides oversight and technical assistance to operators of wastewater treatment facilities. Operators are required to report to the DEC within 24 hours of discovering an event that causes noncompliance with a wastewater discharge permit. The town completed repairs to the ruptured pipe by March 7, 2018.
“The break was not discovered on Feb. 22, it was found on March 6,” Atherton said via email. “This is very disappointing that ANR reported it this way.”
The town agreed to pay a $12,000 fine for the unpermitted discharge and delayed reporting. The Vermont Superior Court, Environmental Division incorporated the agreement into a Final Judicial Order on July 8, 2019.
“Vermont’s aging municipal wastewater treatment facilities and sewer systems present many challenges for operators and customers,” said Emily Boedecker, DEC Commissioner, in the press release. “It is critical that operators 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.”