Public Works director calls for city to appeal given problematic 'extenuating circumstances'

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - A new wastewater facility is being planned out for Sandy. The wet weather this winter only proved the plant is nearing its capactiy and end of its useful life.An unusually wet winter has cost the city of Sandy about $36,675.

On Friday, Aug. 25, the city received a penalty notice from the Department of Environmental Quality for three different events dating as far back as last fall.

The first violation occurred last October at the city's wastewater treatment plant. The city's permit designates where the wastewater is discharged depending on the time of year. Between May 1 and Oct. 31, the city is to discharge to a local nursery for use in irrigation, and only between Nov. 1 and April 30 may it discharge into nearby Tickle Creek.

"We had a very wet October, so there was some concern that if we sent to the nursery they wouldn't be able to store it," Public Works Director Mike Walker explained. "It still met all the standards, but instead of being discharged into irrigation, it was discharged into the stream."

The unusually rainy fall season continued to cause problems this spring. In February and March, the surge of rainwater tested the circa-1998 plant. With the current facility nearing the end of its useful life after years of consistent growth in demand, the excess water caused problems by pushing the limits of the plant's capacity.

"When we get all of that rain, it gets into the sewer system," Walker said. "The treatment efficiency was compromised."

In May, a pipe broke, releasing about 100 gallons of sodium hypochlorite near Jarl Road. The compound mixed with nearby groundwater and ended up in the plant's on-site drainage system and Tickle Creek. The problem was swiftly dealt with and DEQ was informed as soon as the plant's staff were aware of the release.

"We don't believe that was a discharge from the treatment plant, which is a planned thing, but a spill," Walker noted.

The events of the last year, which led to the city receiving this penalty, Walker believes could qualify as "extenuating circumstances," as many were out of the city's control.

The city has 20 days to appeal the penalty. Walker recommended the Sandy City Council authorize city staff to appeal the penalty at its Sept. 5 meeting.

He also hopes to discuss alternative options with DEQ for paying the penalty.

In the past, the city has received a few other lesser penalties and been granted the option of completing a supplemental environmental project to pay its debt. This is an option Walker says they would consider again.

"We don't know what the final decision or amount will be," he added.

But if the city should have to cut the DEQ a check for $36,675, Walker said the money will not be taken away from other projects or greatly influence the department's budget.

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