PERTH AMBOY, NJ—Mayor Wilda Diaz is extremely pleased to confirm that the City previously reached an agreement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency to resolve complaints brought during the administration of Mayor Joseph Vas concerning the City’s combined sewer system. The City Council approved this agreement earlier this year, but just today the EPA gave final approval for the filing of the Consent Decree with the court so that the period for public comment can begin. The City believes that it has saved its taxpayers the cost of lengthy litigation over issues raised, but not addressed by the Vas administration in 2007. Under the agreement the City will make significant capital improvements to its sewer infrastructure over the next decade.
ALLEGED 2007 VIOLATIONS & EPA ORDER: The underlying complaint alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) that were discovered by the EPA when it conducted a compliance evaluation of the City’s combined sewer system on February 21 and 22, 2007, during the administration of former Mayor Joseph Vas. According to the EPA, no actions were taken by the Vas administration to correct or address the violations found in 2007. Therefore, on July 25, 2008, the EPA issued an Order addressed to Mayor Joseph Vas, finding the City in violation of the Clean Water Act, as well as provisions of the permit issued by the NJDEP. The Administrative Compliance Order contained 26 separate paragraphs of compliance directives for the City. The specific alleged violations included:
- Dry water overflows prohibited by the CWA and NJDEP permit;
- Failure to prevent tidal intrusion into the collection system;
- Failure to implement a proper operations and maintenance program;
- Failure to maximize conveyance of wastewater to the treatment plant.
ACTIONS OF THE DIAZ ADMINISTRATION: Over the last three and a half years Mayor Wilda Diaz and her administration have worked with the United States Justice Department and EPA to address the alleged violations and to formulate a long-term capital improvement plan for the City’s combined sewer system. During that time the City and Middlesex Water (USA-PA) developed an extensive, long-term capital improvement plan that has been reviewed, refined and negotiated with the EPA and USDOJ. During the course of these negotiations the City demonstrated its good faith by moving forward with implementation of some of the more urgent items.
In March of this year the EPA and USDOJ tentatively agreed to a list and schedule of capital improvements that the City will undertake and complete over a period of fifteen (15) years. Thereafter, the government stated that given the current administration’s cooperation and commitment to resolve the claims without litigation it would reduce penalties of $250,000 for the City’s past violations to a total penalty of seventeen thousand ($17,000) dollars.
The agreement between the City and the EPA/DOJ was then memorialized in a Consent Decree that today was presented to the United States District Court for entry. There will now be a period for public comment on the proposed Decree.
The City is hopeful that the agreement will move forward without public objection. Under its terms, the City’s aging combined sewer system will receive significant capital improvement and compliance and the City’s taxpayers will avoid the cost of defending a time consuming lawsuit over events that occurred in 2007.