Eureka Springs could face fines from ADEQ

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality officials have warned the city of Eureka Springs that if it fails to comply with pollution guidelines for treating wastewater by Dec. 31, the city could face enforcement action, including "the assessment of a civil penalty," according to a July 6 letter to Mayor Butch Berry and a September email from the ADEQ to Public Works Director Dwayne Allen.

ADEQ issued the warning in response to the city's request to be removed from a consent administrative order.

"Effluent violations must be brought into compliance by Dec. 31, 2015. At this time, ADEQ has no further comment regarding this plan," the letter said.

Public Works Director Dwayne Allen told ADEQ enforcement officials in a March 24 letter that removing the city from restrictions would "ease doubts about refinancing our bond debt, before the expected interest increase this year as well as past audit concerns;" that the city "has been on a series of consent orders for years;" and that he used the consent order to "help secure wastewater funding." The last time the city's wastewater rates were increased was 2008.

"We have made great strides over the last six years and I believe that I have proven I will do everything within my authority to meet state and federal regulations," the letter said.

Allen also cited $475,000 the city received in extra funding this year which he said would be used to repair "system areas identified as critical, add needed wastewater chemical storage, place our SCADA on radio feed off land lines ... and replace deficient water meters in the system ... to increase revenue and greatly decrease our loss."

When asked about the source of the funding and whether it was used for the purposes stated in the letter, city finance director Lonnie Clark referred the Citizen's email to Allen, who did not respond. The Citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the ADEQ to get more information on the city's wastewater issues.

Though the city was operating at a $645,411 deficit for the year as of a Sept. 24 budget meeting, and city council members have continued to questioned Clark about the amount of revenue generated this year from water meter upgrades, Allen said in the letter that he believes the city has "enough funding in place to continue improving its systems."

As of September, documents indicate the city has failed to comply with its own corrective action plan.

A Sept. 18 email from ADEQ enforcement analyst Layne Pemberton to Allen said that ADEQ's records show there were 25 effluent violations over the last three years and in the last year, there have been five sanitary sewer overflows.

ADEQ spokeswoman Katherine Benenati further explained the violations in an Oct. 23 email to the Citizen.

"SSOs are sanitary sewer overflows; effluent violations are violations of the permitted effluent limits," Benenati said in her email. "The City of Eureka Springs is permitted by ADEQ to discharge their wastewater and their permit establishes limits for the City to discharge their wastewater into waters of the state. The City is required by their permit to test their effluent or discharge for the parameters permit at least monthly to ensure they are meeting their permit effluent limits. They are also required to submit Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) to ADEQ monthly. If a permitee or in this case the City exceed their permitted effluent limits, they report this on their DMR as violations. These permit effluents violations must corrected." Reasons given by the city in the letters and emails for the violations include failed bearings, a shaft that "had enough wear it had to be replaced," and failing motive pumps.

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