As the city makes progress in addressing problems at the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant, it still faces a $60,000 fine by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for alleged violations in 1999.
According to the EPA complaint issued in September, the Mendenhall plant exceeded the effluent limits for fecal coliform on six occasions and discharged untreated municipal wastewater into homes and a parking lot in 1999.
The complaint is not related to the criminal case filed against former Wastewater Utility Superintendent Andy Bronson.
The city and the EPA have been negotiating to reach a settlement. An agreement is imminent, EPA compliance officer Kristine Karlson said.
The city hired engineering and environmental consulting firm Carson Dorn Inc. to look into the EPA's allegations. The company evaluated the plant's collection and treatment capacity, disinfection system and inflow during storms.
Jim Dorn, a principal in the firm who has monitored operations at the Mendenhall plant over the past 10 years, said the city made changes to the plant to address the problems before the EPA issued the complaint.
"By the time they got the notice, the plant was running great," he said.
Between 1999 and 2001, the city spent more than $1 million for improvements to the plant. Dorn credits Bronson with the plant's gains.
"The operators' hands were somewhat tied given the equipment they had and the setup. Now they have the equipment to let it operate as it should be operated," he said.
The EPA sent its own inspector to look at the plant in May and found a facility that has cleaned up its act and is headed in the right direction, Karlson said. Although the agency would have preferred to have reacted more quickly to the incidents, it has limited resources, she said.
But not everyone is confident about the improvements. Neighbor Art Dunn had just moved to town when the new plant was built.
"We paid for a top-notch plant and I don't think we've ever gotten one," he said.
David and Sara Hunt, who lived in one of the homes hardest hit by the 1999 sewage problems, have asked for compensation in a civil lawsuit pending against the city. The Hunts have not lived at their home on Meadow Lane since it was flooded with raw sewage. Sara Hunt said the experience has been traumatic.
"It's stressful not to know what's going to happen with our home and our lives," she said. "We feel like we're refugees."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.