Massachusetts Town Fined, Required to Improve Sewage Treatment

As part of a settlement with the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the town of Winchendon will spend $15 million to upgrade its sewage treatment system.

The federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have reached a settlement with the town of Winchendon for alleged violations of federal and state clean water laws and government-issued permits. A civil complaint and consent decree were filed this week in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Under the consent decree, Winchendon will pay a $45,000 fine and invest in a $15 million sewage treatment upgrade to resolve allegations that the town''s sewage system allowed raw sewage to flow into the Millers River during rainstorms and failed to meet discharge standards in the operation of the town''s publicly owned treatment system.

"The best thing about this settlement is that the river will be cleaner," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency''s (EPA) New England Office. "Winchendon residents deserve clean waterways, and they''re going to see the payoff from the investment in better treatment."

The civil complaint alleges that Winchendon''s sewer system is overloaded during heavy rainfalls or periods of high groundwater, when excess water enters the sewer system. A major cause of the overloading is homeowners'' sump pumps and roof drains connected to the sewer system. This overload causes the system to discharge raw sewage into the Millers River, in violation of federal and state laws. Additionally, the town''s sewage treatment plant discharges have regularly exceeded its federal and state permit limits for pollutant levels.

"Winchendon''s agreement to undertake remedial measures is a victory for public health," commented U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan. "This decree should serve as notice to all Massachusetts towns that they must meet federal and state requirements for sewage collection and treatment or face the possibility of federal enforcement action. The elimination of sewage overflows will be of benefit to the environment and to the people of Winchendon and beyond."

The sewage discharges create a public health risk, because of potential disease-causing bacteria in the sewage, as well as odor problems. Together with excess pollution from the treatment plant, the sewage discharges affect the overall health of the Millers River, harming aquatic life, and potentially making the river unsuitable for recreation.

"Winchendon''s new commitment to correct the serious, longstanding problems with its sewage collection and treatment system should be an example to other communities in violation of state and federal Clean Water Act requirements," said Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly. "Cities and towns owe it to their citizens to eliminate illegal sewer hookups and upgrade their treatment systems. The settlement provides Winchendon residents with enhanced protections to public health and safety and a cleaner environment."

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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