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Quick and Dirty

Plug It Up

EPA Tells City to Fix Sewage Leaks

By Van Smith | Posted 2/13/2008

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brought the boom down recently on one aspect of Baltimore City's sewer-leak problem.

For several years, city officials have suspected that underground sewer and storm-water pipes near the Pompeian olive oil facility on Pulaski Highway contribute to a steady flow of sewage entering the Baltimore harbor. Sewage believed to be leaking into the storm-drain system there would end up in the harbor via Canton's South Linwood Avenue outfall, which at times flows gray and stinks overwhelmingly of sewage.

Now EPA, in a Jan. 31 letter to the city's Department of Public Works (DPW), ordered that the problems at Pompeian be fixed immediately, even if temporarily, until a long-term solution is designed.

According to DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher, the city has agreed to conduct "investigation, design, and construction" of the EPA-ordered fix, "all of which are proposed to be finished in March 2008."

Pompeian President Frank T. Patton did not respond to a phone message and an e-mail about the sewer problems and the proposed solution, which Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) water-enforcement manager Sharon Talley tells City Paper involves DPW work on Pompeian's property.

"MDE is in agreement with the way the city is currently proceeding with this particular site," Talley says, adding that water-quality monitoring by the city shows that "there is sewage being discharged into the storm drain there. We've all known that there's been a problem there."

EPA, however, did not know about the situation, as indicated in its letter to DPW and in its discussions with City Paper for prior coverage of the Linwood Avenue sewage-leak problem ("Pardon Our Filth," Feature, Dec. 19). Now that it does, "EPA believes that the City should have investigated potential discharges in a more timely manner," wrote Water Protection Division director Jon Capacasa, "and made appropriate corrections, whether temporary or permanent," such as the one now mandated.

City Paper's prior coverage reported on indications of far vaster problems than the one at Pompeian and under Linwood Avenue. Reviews of 311 citizen-complaint data suggests that DPW regularly fails to report and pay fines for apparently illegal sewer leaks. "We're not done," says EPA spokesman David Sternberg, "and we are continuing to investigate those issues."

Eliza Smith Steinmeier, executive director of Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, who monitors water-quality issues on the Patapsco River, read EPA's letter to DPW and expressed regrets that it's taken so much effort to get the city to respond to sewer-leak issues.

"It's unfortunate that it took inquiries to EPA and a news article to convince the city to take the remedial action that is required by law," Steinmeier wrote in an e-mail last week. "The local watershed groups have brought these issues to the attention of DPW numerous times over the last few years."

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Tags: sewage, dpw, epa, sewers

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