MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

October 16, 2012

ODEQ sets deadlines for sewers

Order sets fines for failure to complete city wastewater projects

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— State environmental regulators amended a consent order issued in 2008, setting deadlines for several projects designed to eliminate overflows from the city’s sewer lines.

The addendum reviewed Tuesday by city councilors also identifies 130 sanitary sewer overflows reported during the course of 26 months. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage reportedly spilled into city streets between December 2009 through this past January as a result of the unpermitted discharges.

In an ODEQ letter sent earlier this month to city officials, the director of the agency’s water quality division said the addendum “increases the scope of the evaluation and rehabilitation of the wastewater collection system.” The addendum sets “firm schedules” for the completion of the Coody Creek outfall line and three other projects.

The project schedule will be enforced by a fine schedule, which ranges from $120 to $480 for each day an identified project remains incomplete after a deadline passes. Penalties would begin to accrue the day the project is scheduled, cap out at $120,000, and subject the city to additional penalties for noncompliance.

Jay Updike of Holloway Updike & Bellen, the engineering firm overseeing the wastewater collection system overhaul, said the city is “ahead of schedule on all of the projects” that have been started. Lines are being tested and inspected throughout the city as workers try to identify areas where stormwater infiltrates sewer lines, causing unpermitted discharges.

Public Works Director Mike Stewart said even though sanitary sewer overflows continue to be a problem, he believes the city is in good standing with ODEQ.

“They know our system is that old and understand the problems that can occur with an aging system like ours,” Stewart said. “They also know of the projects we have going on now and those we have coming up.”

The regulatory agency, Stewart said, has approved the city’s master plan developed by the city’s engineering consultants. Updike said the master plan includes four phases, which will take several years to complete.

The city’s sewer collection upgrades, which include sewer-line and lift-station rehabilitation, were mandated after thousands of gallons of raw sewage spilled into a tributary of Coody Creek, which empties into the Arkansas River. The order mandated replacement of the century-old Coody Creek outfall line and several other projects.

The Coody Creek project, which is projected to cost about $12 million by the time it is completed, is being funded from revenue generated by a five-year 0.325-cent sales tax. Lift station rehabilitation and the eastside interceptor line projects are being funded by an Oklahoma Water Resources Board loan.

Updike said the first phase of the collection system rehabilitation project is expected to be funded through a future capital improvements program. The program, officials said, likely will require an extension of the 0.325-cent sales tax, which would have to be approved by voters.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.