By SCOTT JACKSON
The US Attorney’s Office and the US Environmental Protection Agency New England regional office has entered into a consent decree with the city of Quincy to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act regarding the city’s stormwater and sanitary sewer systems, federal officials announced Wednesday. Water sampling indicated untreated sanitary sewage discharging from numerous Quincy stormwater outfalls, including outfalls discharging at beach areas.
The settlement requires Quincy to implement extensive remedial measures to minimize the discharge of sewage and other pollutants into Quincy Bay, Dorchester Bay, Neponset River, Hingham Bay, Boston Harbor and other water bodies in and around Quincy. The cost of the remedial measures is expected to be in excess of $100 million. The City will also pay a civil penalty of $115,000.
Chris Walker, the chief of staff to Mayor Thomas Koch, said the remedial measures Quincy would undertake as part of the proposed settlement are on par with what the city currently spends on similar infrastructure improvements on an annual basis.
“The Mayor felt strongly that the original action was a broad overreach that ignored the City’s history going back decades of investing tens of millions of dollars into water-quality improvements. This agreement, negotiated over the course of several years, clearly reflects that the EPA and US Attorney’s [Office] took his concerns seriously and to a great degree recognized the City’s past efforts and its planning for the years ahead,” Walker said in a statement.
“The work contemplated in the agreement is well within the City’s existing budgetary framework for water-quality improvements, and will not require any substantive increase in annual expenditures. The agreement calls for between $6 and $8 million in capital work to be completed annually through 2034 – a range already included in City’s Water and Sewer Enterprise budgets for the last several years.
“This is the same process that many communities have gone through over the years – including Boston, Hull, Revere, Swampscott and Lawrence to name a few. We believe this agreement fares well against prior similar actions based on the good-faith negotiations that recognized the City’s record over the years.”
Negotiations between the city and federal officials regarding the scope of work to be done were “truly productive,” Walker added.
“We think the EPA learned a number of things about what’s been done here and what’s planned, and we also took their concerns and ideas very seriously. The end result is an agreement that took into consideration those varying perspectives and priorities, and did so in a way that fits within a manageable schedule that will not create additional stress to ratepayers or City finances,” Walker said.
“The civil fine component was a major sticking point for Mayor Koch. He felt that based on the City’s history of work and the City’s willingness to continue making capital investments to reduce pollution, that any kind of fine would unfairly characterize the City’s track record. The agreed upon fine – to avoid a lengthy and costly court proceeding – was lower than many other communities that went through a similar process.”
Under the proposed consent decree, Quincy will implement a comprehensive and integrated program to investigate, repair and rehabilitate its stormwater and sanitary sewer systems. The proposed settlement is also consistent with EPA directives to strengthen enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes in communities disproportionately impacted by pollution, with special focus on achieving remedies with tangible benefits for the community.
“This settlement builds on work done over the past three decades to address pollution in Boston Harbor. The work required under the proposed settlement will achieve cleaner and healthier water in Quincy and nearby areas. This will protect people’s health, making it safer to enjoy beaches or other recreation in or on the bays and rivers in the area,” said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro.
“This settlement is a reminder that municipalities must comply with the law and environmental standards to prevent and address pollution caused by defects in their stormwater and sewage systems,” said Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell. “This is a matter of environmental protection and public health.”
In March 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a civil complaint alleging that the city of Quincy inadequately controlled sewage leaking from its sanitary sewer system, allowing sewage to mix with stormwater and be discharged from the municipal storm sewer system into nearby waterbodies, including at beach locations. The complaint also alleged that Quincy’s sanitary sewer system has overflowed on numerous occasions, resulting in discharges of sewage.
Raw sewage overflows from sanitary sewers and discharges of stormwater mixed with sewage from municipal storm sewer systems introduce a variety of harmful pollutants, including disease causing organisms, and can contribute to illnesses and beach and shellfish bed closings.
Water sampling indicated untreated sanitary sewage discharging from numerous Quincy stormwater outfalls, including outfalls discharging at beach areas. The proposed consent decree establishes a schedule for Quincy to investigate the sources of sewage being discharged from its storm drains. Quincy will first complete its investigations of drainage areas discharging to beach areas, including Wollaston Beach and the Adams Shore area. Quincy will prioritize the rest of the investigations according to the sensitivity of receiving waters and evidence of sewage.
The proposed consent decree also requires Quincy to remove all identified sources of sewage as expeditiously as possible. In addition, Quincy is required to conduct frequent and enhanced monitoring (in both dry and wet weather) of its stormwater outfalls. Until pollutants are removed from its storm drain discharges, Quincy will be required to post notices to warn beachgoers of contaminated stormwater at such storm drain outfalls. The remedies under the proposed consent decree also include the investigation and repair of Quincy’s sanitary sewer infrastructure, and the integration of that work with its stormwater investigations.
Some portions of Quincy’s sanitary sewer system are over 100 years old. Numerous studies conducted by Quincy have identified significant and widespread defects in the sanitary sewer system, including cracks that allowed sewage to leak. While Quincy has made some repairs to the sanitary sewer system, the proposed consent decree will require future work to be conducted on a fixed schedule and coordinated with its stormwater investigations. The proposed consent decree requires the City to conduct all investigations and complete remedial work by December 2034.