Five years and $17 million later, Oak Ridge has satisfied a federal administrative order that required the city to repair all sewer system overflows by the end of this month, officials announced Wednesday.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said he has received a “closure letter” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stating the City’s Administrative Order pursuant to the Clean Water Act has been fulfilled, a press release said. The letter, signed by James Giattina, director the Water Protection Division at EPA’s regional office in Atlanta, states that the EPA Region 4 “has determined that the city has satisfied the requirements of the referenced order and hereby closes the order.”
In 2010, the EPA filed an administrative order against the city for excess “Inflow and Infiltration” affecting the wastewater collection lines within the city’s primary service areas. The EPA considered the reported system overflows and piped overflows to be a violation of the Clean Water Act, the press release said. The administrative order contained various program requirements to eliminate the overflows, ensure adequate capacity system wide, and to develop a formal management, operation, and maintenance program, or MOM.
“I am pleased to report that the challenge of the EPA administrative order charged against our city is over!” Watson said. “We have received written confirmation that we have done a substantial job in addressing the findings of the Environmental Protection Agency against Oak Ridge. The order is now closed and we can begin to maintain a consistent and ongoing maintenance effort of this important sewage infrastructure for the community.”
Watson added: “In the beginning, we searched for rational explanations to our problems and examined political and legal responses. However, in the end, the cooperative approach taken with EPA has yielded the results we wanted. I want to commend the City of Oak Ridge Utility staff under the overall direction of Public Works Director Gary Cinder and their diligent modernization efforts of our systems. We also wish to thank our City Council in providing the important political leadership needed during this process. From this point forward, the City of Oak Ridge will continue to improve and maintain the utility infrastructure as required by the Clean Water Act and improved through the major improvements made in these past few years.”
Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Smith, who participated in meetings with the EPA, said: “I’m very proud of our city and our city staff for accomplishing this goal. Three years ago, it wasn’t entirely clear that it would be physically possible to meet the stringent deadline set by EPA. Indeed, it would not have been possible without excellent engineering project management—and the excellent groundwork laid over the previous two decades by city projects that tightened up many of our sewers and upgraded our sewage treatment plant. Now we have the satisfaction of knowing that Oak Ridge avoided the costly litigation and fines that other cities have faced when they could not meet EPA deadlines, and that severe wet weather can no longer cause the sewer backups that once led to messy overflows into our streams and sometimes even into people’s backyards.”
Gary Cinder, recently retired Public Works Director, said: “Complying with the many requirements and deadlines of the EPA administrative order has been a monumental task requiring a true team effort of the entire city staff, our consultants, the City Council, and the citizens of our city. The order has touched virtually every employee in the Public Works Department, as well as many others within the city organization. From its inception in 2010 through today, every work day has had some activities related to the order. The spirit and determination shown by so many fine Public Works employees to get the job done cannot be overstated. They pulled together in so many ways to not only meet the requirements, but to also pursue new and innovative ways to get work done more efficiently. The technical skills of the engineering team, headed up by our program manager, Lamar Dunn, and the LDA Engineering team, along with design work from Jacobs Engineering, Cannon and Cannon, Fulghum McIndoe, Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon, as well as McGill and Associates, succeeded in meeting every deadline, in addition to the budget.”
He added “the support of the City Council through the life of the order has made it significantly easier to meet the requirements asked of us. The patience and understanding of the citizens in the face of rising sewer rates, along with extensive construction work in every neighborhood in the city, has been truly appreciated. It is particularly rewarding to have these efforts recognized by the EPA by them ending the order a month ahead of schedule. EPA is fully aware that work will continue on the equalization basin construction through the rest of this year, and knows that the city will see the project through to completion. Everyone involved in fulfilling the requirements of this order has every reason to have a great sense of pride and accomplishment for a job well done.”
The city has invested more than $17 million to date in order to comply with the terms of the administrative order, the press release said.
For more information, visit the city’s website at www.oakridgetn.gov.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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