Contact: Dan Olson, 218-846-7390
Wheaton, Minn. -- The city of Wheaton has agreed to pay a $12,879 civil penalty to settle alleged violations of its wastewater treatment facility's permit. In addition to paying the civil penalty, the city has agreed to take steps to help prevent recurrences of the alleged violations, and most of these actions have been completed.
According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the violations include failing to meet limits for various pollutants in discharged wastewater such as suspended solids (sediment) and fecal coliform, and failing to contain or adequately sample bypasses. The city also did not properly notify the state when bypasses occurred. Bypasses are situations where heavy rain or other circumstances allow untreated wastewater to reach surface water. In this case, wastewater flowed into the Mustinka River, portions of which are on Minnesota's list of "impaired" waters because of high levels of sediment and low levels of dissolved oxygen.
Wheaton's wastewater treatment facility consists of three stabilization ponds designed to treat an average flow of up to 235,000 gallons per day. For several years, aging and leaking sewer pipes have allowed ground water and stormwater runoff to enter and overload the system. In the last 10 years, the city has installed new sewer collection lines in 55 blocks or roughly half the city. About 33 percent of the remaining clay tile pipes still need to be replaced.
The MPCA provides outreach and training on a variety of topics for wastewater treatment plant operators. People who operate wastewater treatment facilities must be certified to ensure they have a thorough understanding of a system's basic operation, maintenance and reporting procedures.
A stipulation agreement is one of the tools used to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it is a first time or repeat violation, and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. It also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner. For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions by the MPCA, go to the agency Web site at www.pca.state.mn.us/newscenter/enforcement.html.