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EPA, U.S. Department of Justice and State of Alaska settle with City of Palmer for wastewater violations

New treatment plant seen as “Investment in the future”

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Mark MacIntyre (

(Seattle) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Alaska have announced a settlement with the City of Palmer, Alaska, which addresses Clean Water Act violations at the city-owned and operated wastewater treatment plant.

The Palmer facility currently uses a “lagoon system” for sewage treatment which serves approximately 12,000 people, including the city and adjacent areas of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.  Between June 2010 and February 2015, the plant reported over 2,000 discharge permit violations for pollutants including: ammonia, fecal coliform, pH, biochemical oxygen demand, and total suspended solids.  Similar violations have occurred since that time.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city will upgrade the facility by 2018 to a state-of-the-art system known as a “moving bed bio-film reactor” or MBBR, which has been shown to be an effective treatment technology in colder climates.  The city will also implement several measures to minimize continuing violations until the new treatment comes online. As part of the settlement, the city will also pay a $192,162 penalty.

“By upgrading their wastewater treatment system and protecting the environment, the City of Palmer is investing in the future,” said Ed Kowalski, Director of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance. “Their new, state-of-the-art plant will give them much-needed flexibility to accommodate future growth while safeguarding people’s health as well as the fish and wildlife that help make Palmer an attractive place to live, work and play. This is a great example of how investing in basic infrastructure can pay great dividends for communities.”

Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Alaska Attorney General’s Office have provided valuable technical and legal input in developing the proposed settlement.

“We are encouraged by the city’s efforts to improve their wastewater infrastructure, and we are pleased the parties were able to reach an agreement.  It is better to see public funds go towards workable solutions rather than litigation,” said Mike Solter, DEC Compliance Program Manager.

The Palmer plant discharges wastewater into the northernmost channel of the Matanuska River under a Clean Water Act discharge permit issued in 2006 by EPA and now administered by Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation.  The Matanuska River, which supports all five species of salmon, flows into the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet.  Coho, pink, and chum salmon spawn in channels along the river, including the channel that receives the Palmer facility’s discharges.  Beluga whales - observed regularly in Knik Arm - are a listed species under federal Endangered Species Act.

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