The City of Mount Vernon is facing a lawsuit from the EPA and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for allegedly discharging raw sewage and other pollutants from its storm sewer system into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers.
Officials announced the lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that Mount Vernon has failed to comply with the Clean Water Act storm sewer permit requirements designed to prevent raw sewage and other illicit pollutants from flowing from the city’s storm sewer system into the rivers.
The discharges have allegedly been going on since January 2012.
According to Geoffrey Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, many municipalities, including Mount Vernon, operate “municipal separate storm sewer systems” that carry stormwater and discharge it without treatment into nearby waters.
“Because separate storm sewer systems do not treat the water they discharge, a municipality is required by its Clean Water Act permit to maintain a program for identifying and eliminating any sewage or other illicit pollutants that are flowing into the storm sewers.”
The lawsuit alleges that Mount Vernon has failed to comply with permit obligations, and, as a result, has allowed raw sewage to flow into its storm sewer system and then to be discharged into the two rivers. The city has also allegedly failed to comply with two EPA Administrative Orders issued to compel the city into compliance.
“For years, Mount Vernon has discharged raw sewage and other illicit pollutants from its storm sewer system into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers,” Berman said in a statement. “Mount Vernon has consistently failed to comply with permit requirements intended to prevent these discharges, and has flouted EPA administrative orders intended to address the problem.
"Today’s lawsuit will protect the waters of this district by obtaining a judicial order compelling Mount Vernon to bring its sewers into compliance with the Clean Water Act.”
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas placed the blame on the City Council, stating that fixing broken sewers has been “stalled” by its members.
“Portions of the city are hemorrhaging raw sewage into homes, businesses, and rivers. I have been trying to stop the bleeding on this issue yet obstructionists are refusing to act. Similar to the NYCHA where broken pipes and negligent officials led to $4 billion in penalties, our streets are riddled with busted sewer pipes that will result in a significant monetary penalty from the Department of Justice. These problems are hard to see but easy to smell. Many have suffered in silence as the city ignored the issue for 15 years.”
Thomas called the challenge of fixing the sewers “monumental,” saying that crews will need to scope and examine 600,000 linear feet of pipe in the city and repair every piece. Mount Vernon missed several deadlines and the city could soon be facing millions of dollars in fines.
“The City of Mount Vernon must take the appropriate actions to protect its residents and downstream communities from threats posed by raw sewage and other pollutants,” EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez said. “EPA and New York State will continue to work together with the city to ensure that Mount Vernon understands how to fix the problems with its storm sewer system.
“In addition, we support efforts by the city to seek funding to assist Mount Vernon in getting the necessary work completed. This complaint gets to the core of EPA’s mission of protecting people’s health, and we will continue to work with the state and city to carry out that mission.”
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