Environmental Groups Take Legal Action To End Sewage Spills in Valley Forge National Historical Park
PennEnvironment and the Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited announced today that they have sent a formal notice of intent to sue Tredyffrin Township (Chester County) and the Tredyffrin Township Municipal Authority for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The letter is the first step towards ending a series of massive sewage spills in Valley Forge National Historical Park that the groups say threaten public health and pollute a pristine national resource.
Tredyffrin's sewer pipeline is over 40 years old and runs through Valley Forge Park, along Valley Creek. In the past two years, this pipeline has ruptured on three separate occasions, releasing millions of gallons of sewage directly into Valley Creek. In the two most recent pipeline failures, the township intentionally released millions of gallons of sewage directly into Valley Creek, which has received the state's highest water quality classification as an "Exceptional Value" stream, and is a Pennsylvania "Class A wild trout stream."
In a September 29, 2014 letter to Tredyffrin Township and the Municipal Authority, which own and operate the pipeline, the groups stated that each spill violates Section 301(a) of the federal Clean Water Act because no permit authorizes sewage to be discharged into Valley Creek. Because the underlying causes of these sewage spills have not been resolved and since there is no alternative emergency plan in place, the groups said they intend to file suit within 60 days to protect the stream from future pipeline breaks.
"Valley Forge holds an important place in America's history, and we cannot sit by while this national treasure faces the constant threat of illegal water pollution,” stated PennEnvironment Director David Masur. “It is simply unacceptable that there is no plan in place to prevent future spills, and no timeline for replacing this dangerous, crumbling pipeline,”
The pipeline in question ruptured in March 2012, February 2014, and March 2014. While repairs have been made to the ruptured sections of the pipe, the environmental groups believe that more breaks and Clean Water Act violations will continue due to the age and poor quality of the pipeline. They point to the fact that this type of pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe has been the subject of study by the U.S. EPA because of the hundreds of dramatic failures that have occurred over the course of its use.
Under the federal Clean Water Act’s citizen suit provision, private citizens affected by violations of the law are allowed to bring an enforcement suit in federal court. The first step in the process is providing a 60-day notice to the violator, and to state and federal environmental agencies. Citizens can seek penalties and a court order requiring compliance with the law.
“Valley Creek is widely recognized as the best trout fishery in the world that’s located close to a major metropolitan area,” said Pete Goodman, a former president of the Valley Forge TU chapter who has fished in the area for 43 years. “We look forward to meeting with the township officials and their consultants in the very near future as we continue to seek solutions for how to protect this vital waterway.”
The 30-inch pressurized pipeline is known as the “Valley Creek Trunk Sewer Force Main,” and was built in the 1970s. This pipeline carries raw sewage generated by six upstream municipalities (Tredyffrin, Easttown, East Whiteland, Malvern Borough, Willistown Township, and Valley Forge) from the Wilson Road Pump Station to the Valley Forge Sewer Authority’s wastewater treatment plant in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. For nearly two miles, the pipeline runs along Valley Creek and through Valley Forge National Historical Park. The park sits about 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia and is a popular recreation destination for residents in the area, as well as visitors from across the country and around the globe.
Owen Owens, cofounder of the Valley Forge chapter of Trout Unlimited and a longtime member of PennEnvironment, has been fighting to protect and restore Valley Creek for over thirty years. By the mid-1980s, much of the fish population had died out due to farm runoff, sewage, pollution, and a cyanide leak from a nearby steel mill.
“We’ve worked too long and too hard to restore Valley Creek to its current exceptional quality to let it be turned into a sewer every time the latest patch to this old pipeline fails,” Owens said.