By Rebecca Rose
Harker Heights Herald
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has released its report on the March sewer spill that killed 430 fish.
In the report, the TCEQ cited the city for "failure by the regulated entity to prevent the discharge of wastewater into or adjacent to water in the state without authorization from the commission."
Its recommended corrective action was to "implement efforts to repair and/or prevent the reported cause of the unauthorized discharge."
On March 5, starting at 10:30 p.m. until 10 a.m. March 6, an "unauthorized wastewater discharge" occurred. During that time, the report states "approximately 28,800 gallons of sewer water overflowed into a nearby unnamed stream." A grease clog between manholes 1020 and 1026 caused the discharge. The backup was east of Indian Trail on Farm-to-Market 2410.
The report states that the discharge resulted in "a documented serious impact to the environment."
A letter dated May 11 from the TCEQ to the city states that "due to the apparent seriousness of the alleged violation, formal enforcement action has been initiated, and additional violations may be cited upon further review."
The letter also states, "In responding with prompt corrective action, the administrative penalty to be assessed may be limited."
The report does not indicate what, if any, penalties or fines the city would face.
Mark Hyde, public works director, said the city took action to correct the issue.
"We cleaned the line blockage," Hyde said.
The city had also resolved the issue with an open septic tank also mentioned in the investigation, which he said was not on city property.
"We've done everything necessary," he said.
Hyde said he placed a call to the investigator who worked on the case, to clarify what the city would be asked to do next, and find out about possible fines.
"We wanted to see what the penalties are, if there are any," Hyde said.
Frank Burleson, Water and Waste Section manager, TCEQ Waco Regional Office, said penalties were calculated by their enforcement division.
Andrea Morrow, spokesperson for TCEQ, said they do not apply a flat penalty for the type of violation the city was cited for; but rather, "a number of factors are considered by the agency when assessing penalties."
She said the agency considers several key factors when determining what penalties to assess, including the extent of environmental harm.
They also take into consideration "prompt corrective action" taken by the city, as well as how well the city has done in the past when it comes to other environmental regulations.
In the case of the fish kill in March, a notice of enforcement was issued by TCEQ. "When a notice of enforcement is used, then it goes to the enforcement office in Austin."
From there, a coordinator will examine the case and "apply penalties as fairly and consistently for similar violations."
Morrow said the enforcement office "just received the case," but that they take no fewer than 60 days to review a case and determine fines. "It could be less, depending on their work load and the specifics of case."
Upon determining the penalties, TCEQ will send an "agreed order" to the city stipulating what the exact penalties are.
Once city officials sign the order, it goes back to the full commission for approval.
"Hopefully the city is making corrective actions now, so this doesn't happen again. If that is the case, that will help in terms of penalties," Morrow said. "The most important thing is to get these things cleaned up."
Contact Rebecca Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548. Follow her on Twitter at KDHheights.