By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

City fined for sewage violation

The plant accidentally discharged an estimated 500,000 gallons of effluent into the South Yamhill River before it had undergone ultraviolet treatment for E. coli bacteria. Though no health problems have been documented as a result, that violated terms of its treated wastewater discharge permit.

In settling on a figure,  the DEQ took into account the fact that the plant had a clean prior record and quickly took steps to avoid any recurrence, according to Compliance and Enforcement Manager Leah Feldon. She said the agency treated it as a Class I violation of relatively minor magnitude. 

The city has a right to appeal, but City Engineer Mike Bisset told City Manager Kent Taylor he is recommending against that.

“The $3,300 penalty is essentially the minimum that must be assessed for a Class I permit violation,” he said in a memo to Taylor. “As part of the penalty calculation formula, included in the DEQ findings, it was noted that the Water Reclamation Facility has an excellent permit compliance record, and there are no other significant violations that have occurred at the facility. Additionally, it was noted in the penalty formula that the WRF staff has implemented procedures to correct/mitigate the violation and to ensure it will not be repeated.”

He went on to conclude: “Based on my review of the order, I believe that DEQ has accurately and fairly reviewed the situation and developed their findings. Additionally, I believe that the proposed penalty represents the minimum amount that could be assessed, given our excellent record of compliance and our appropriate response to the situation. Therefore, it is my recommendation that we do not appeal the penalty assessment and order.”

Bisset said the mistake occurred March 22. He said the staff caused the problem when it reset a computer incorrectly.

“The result of the improper reset was an indication by the computerized control system that all treatment elements were working, when, in fact, the UV disinfection system was not operating,” Bisset wrote. “Once the error was discovered, the WRF operations superintendent immediately corrected the situation, and the WRF was returned to proper operating condition.”

The city notified the DEQ of the mistake by phone on March 23, and followed up with a formal written notice two days later.

In it, Wastewater Services Manager Dave Gehring noted the plant had put several measures in place to avoid a repeat. “We have written up a procedure for resetting the facility’s Programmable Logic Computers and will have training on an annual schedule,” Gehring wrote.

“Each PLC will have a list of the equipment associated with that PLC. Anytime a PLC is reset, the operator/maintenance personnel will verify that all equipment associated with that PLC is operating properly.”

Gehring went on to assure the agency, “Alarms are now in place that will flag the operator if the PLC is not operating correctly. In the event that there is a failure to a piece of equipment that has the potential to negatively impact the facility’s NPDES permit, the operator on duty will contact a lead worker or supervisor for assistance.”

Bisset told Taylor, “I would like to note to you and the city council that as I have worked through this difficult situation, I have found that the WRF management and line staff are embarrassed and mortified that this violation occurred. There is a full awareness that this type of violation reflects poorly on the department and the entire city organization. They understand that our city council and citizens expect that the WRF is operating properly at all times, and they recognize we have a responsibility to ensure our actions do not harm the city or environment.”

He said he was confident there would be no further violations of that sort.

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