Water Quality
March 30 2011

Glouster, Massachusetts balks at upgrading its sewage treatment plant to secondary treatment levels

by Mara Dias

Representatives from the Massachusetts Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation were the lone voices of support at a recent public hearing for EPA's draft decision to deny a sewage treatment plant in Glouster another waiver to it's obligations to meet the decades long requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The Glouster plant has avoided upgrading its ocean wastewater discharge to secondary treatment levels for over 25 years now and has failed to fully meet its water testing obligations required by their current discharge permit and CWA waiver which has allowed continued primary sewage treatment.  Surfrider feels it is time for Glouster to meet their obligations under the CWA and to do their best to monitor and protect local water quality, ecosystem health and a thriving recreational ocean-users community.

Local press below.

By Francis X. Quinn

Led by Mayor Carolyn Kirk, local state legislators and representatives of the state's two U.S. senators lined up with Gloucester business people and a broad array of residents to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reverse a tentative decision and extend a waiver from Clean Water Act provisions for the city's wastewater treatment plant.

"Basically we see no environmental problem and therefore no environmental benefit" from upgrading the 1984-built facility from primary to more rigorous secondary treatment of sewage, Kirk told a panel of two EPA officials and one official of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection at City Hall.

More than 200 people — a rough count that dropped gradually as the public hearing continued for more than 2 1/2 hours — turned out Thursday night for an opportunity to speak or at least listen.

Save for one speaker from the Massachusetts chapter of the Surfrider Foundation  — a nonprofit organization that describes itself as dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves and beaches — those taking the podium argued over and over for relief from a pending federal ruling that city officials say would cost Gloucester more than $60 million.

"This is a death sentence for Gloucester," said one of the more vehement agency critics, chairwoman Rosalyn Frontiera of the "Who Decides?" organization.

Business advocates of a renewed waiver ranged from Executive Director Bob Hastings of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce to Tyler Gross of Homestyle Laundry.

The lengthy hearing was laced with repeated disparaging references to one secondary treatment plant that has received much attention recently — the Hooksett, N.H., facility that discharged as many as 8 million plastic discs on March 6, with many finding their way to litter beaches and other shoreline properties in Gloucester and across Cape Ann.

Some speakers drew loud bursts of cheers. Virtually all were applauded politely.

The tone was generally in keeping with the goal set by moderator David Webster, chief of the EPA regional office's industrial permits branch, who welcomed the audience to "an informal non-adversarial hearing."

After Kirk and discharge monitoring consultant Allan Michael made the city's case, they were seconded by Democratic state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, Republican state Sen. Bruce Tarr and aides to U.S. Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry.

Ferrante urged regulators to keep in mind "what is reasonable, what is feasible and what is justifiable." Tarr urged them to exercise "practicality" and "common sense."......  article continues here.

The EPA's tentative waiver denial, the draft permit and fact sheet, and other information may be found on the regional office's web site at: http://www.epa.gov/region1/npdes/permits/draft/2011/draftma0100625permit.pdf.

Francis X. Quinn can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3455 or fquinn@gloucestertimes.com.


Charlee Bianchini/Correspondent
Posted:  03/25/2011 12:54 PM

Arguments made at the hearing in support of another waiver extension were mainly focused on the cost of making the necessary upgrades to meet secondary treatment requirements at the sewage treatment plant.  Local press below.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, met with Gloucester officials and residents Thursday evening for a presentation and hearing on why the EPA has mandated Gloucester build a secondary sewer treatment system.

The EPA has made a tentative decision to deny Gloucester’s secondary treatment waiver, therefore requiring the city to build a project that might amount to a cost of $60 million. The city has been granted a total of two waivers since 1985. The waiver is subject to review every five years.

The 301(h) Clean Water Act of 1972 required secondary treatment systems to be in place by 1977, however a waiver system was set up so that areas that meet water treatment requirements do not have to put in the system. According to the EPA, Gloucester has not met those requirements since the last review session, and is therefore required to install a secondary system.

The EPA gave four reasons  why Gloucester has not met the requirements: Whole Effluent Toxicity, Oil and Grease, Bacteria, and Fecal coliform bacteria.  The whole effluent toxicity study, a measure of toxicity to living organisms conducted in a laboratory, was conducted a total of 46 times, and out of those tests, 40 exceeded the permit limits.  The fecal coliform amount exceeded one-third of the studies, and one time was as high as 4,000 times the safe limit, and 12 percent of samples taken near the outfall pipe exceeded the new maximum limit.

Local tests have different results

However, scientists in Gloucester disagree with the EPA’s data. Dr. Allan Michael, a scientist who has been working for the city since 1988, has been doing testing in Gloucester waters for over 20 years. Michael states that though the levels in the labs appear high, the effect of the levels on the environment is low. This is because once the matter is released into the oceans, it is diluted about 60 to 1. “We have done extensive studies of what the effluent toxicity is doing [to the species]. That’s far more valuable than a lab test. That doesn’t tell you anything. There has been zero change for 20 years,” said Michael.

Both city and state officials read statements and letters appealing the EPA’s tentative decision. All were in agreement that Gloucester could not afford to put in a secondary system. They estimate a $60 million cost for building, and a yearly maintenance and upkeep fee of $1 million, neither of which the city can presently afford. They estimated that the average yearly sewer bill would go from $1,251 to $2,570, nearly doubling in price. Gloucester already has sewer rates twice as high as the national average.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk made the point that there are “so many other urgent infrastructure needs” that need to be handled first, especially because it isn’t certain that a secondary plant will significantly improve the situation. She went on to say, “all we’re asking for is a reasonable balance.” She ended her statement by stating that the discs the city has been “handpicking” off the beaches that have floated down from New Hampshire, come from a secondary treatment plant.

However, others were in favor of the EPA’s decision, stating that waivers were not meant to be permanent, and that the city should be able to completely prove the present system having no environmental impact.

No decisions will be made until after the hearing time closes at midnight on March 31. Until then, residents, business owners and city officials are encouraged to send in statements of opinion.

Written opinions should be sent to: U.S. EPA, 5 Post Office Square, Boston, MA 02109-3912