By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined the city of Harker Heights $9,700 this week for a March sewer spill that killed hundreds of fish.
The sewer spill involved a grease blockage in the collection system north of Farm-to-Market 2410 and Granite Trail, according the the state agency's report. About 28,800 gallons of wastewater were discharged from two manholes and a septic tank into an unnamed tributary of Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir, killing 430 fish.
Harker Heights City Manager Steve Carpenter said he believes the fine is based on the amount of fish killed, not so much on the spill itself. He said sewer overflows happen more often than people realize, and they are quickly reported and remediated, as was this spill.
Carpenter said Harker Heights was the first area city to voluntarily enter a 10-year sewer improvement program with the state commission about four years ago to upgrade its manholes and lines. He said the city seals its manholes, and it uses cameras and smoke to test its sewer lines and pinpoint leaks.
"I was a little surprised - actually, disappointed - that we got fined because TCEQ told us the likelihood of an overflow fine was less if we were part of this program," said Carpenter. "We are doing everything we can do to fix our sewer lines, and they know it. We have never had a problem with this line."
The state agency investigated the sewer spill on March 7, a day after it occurred. By March 9, the report states, the city had jetted and televised the collection lines, removed the grease blockage, removed and properly disposed of wastewater and dead fish from the tributary, and cleaned and disinfected the stream banks.
According to TCEQ, penalties are calculated by the agency's enforcement division and are based on a number of factors, including the extent of environmental harm. The agency also takes into account prompt corrective action, as well as the city's record of following environmental regulations.
"The spill exceeded levels that are protective of human health or environmental receptors, which resulted in the violations," said Lisa Wheeler, spokesperson for the state agency. "The city has taken corrective measures."
Contact Kim Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.