[PHILADELPHIA, PA] — The threat of a pending Clean Water Act lawsuit by PennEnvironment and the Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited (VFTU) against Tredyffrin Township compelled state environmental regulators to take their own legal action against the Township, and to forge a legally binding plan to fix and replace an aging, failure-prone sewage pipeline.
The settlement includes a penalty of $110,500 against the Township, and is expected to resolve the repeated pipeline ruptures that have caused millions of gallons of untreated sewage to be illegally discharged into Valley Forge National Historical Park and Valley Creek.
“All along, PennEnvironment and Trout Unlimited have stated that our top priority is to see a comprehensive solution to the sewage pipeline ruptures plaguing Valley Forge and the Valley Creek, and not to see the inside of a courtroom,” said PennEnvironment Director David Masur. “The settlement with Pennsylvania DEP assesses an appropriate financial penalty for Tredyffrin’s ongoing environmental violations, and contains a pro-active plan for avoiding future sewage blowouts.”
On September 29, 2014, PennEnvironment and VFTU had sent the Township and state regulators a “60-day notice letter,” the formal notice of intent to sue that is required before private groups can enforce the federal Clean Water Act. 56 days later, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) obtained judicial approval of a plan requiring Tredyffrin Township and its Municipal Authority to repair and replace the pipeline.
In the consent decree, Judge Jacqueline C. Cody of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas declared that Tredyffrin Township and the Tredyffrin Township Municipal Authority had violated the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law during each of the three sewer line failures since 2012.
“After two years of increasingly severe sewage pipeline breaks, no emergency response plan other than ‘dump the sewage in the creek,’ and no plan to replace this aging pipeline, Trout Unlimited feels that we have once again fulfilled our role as environmental stewards by helping to drive this outcome,” said Pete Goodman, a former president of VFTU and local fisherman who has fished in Valley Creek for over 40 years.
The first leak from the sewer line occurred in early 2012, followed by two massive ruptures in 2014. During the pipeline ruptures in February and March 2014, Tredyffrin Township discharged approximately 21 million gallons of untreated sewage directly into Valley Creek, a tributary of the Schuylkill River that flows through the national park. Valley Creek has been designated as an “Exceptional Value” stream—the state’s highest water quality classification—by DEP, and as a “Class A wild trout stream” by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Of the $110,500 penalty, $38,000 will be devoted to help fund the preparation of a stream bank stabilization and floodplain restoration design for 945 feet of the severely eroded stream bank of Valley Creek.
“One of the most effective aspects of the federal Clean Water Act is that it empowers local residents and citizen groups to take action when the local polluter and environmental regulators won’t,” stated Masur. “This case is a perfect example of how concerned citizens have the ability to achieve speedy and effective resolution of serious environmental problems.”
The consent decree includes a schedule requiring replacement of the pipeline, known as the “Valley Creek Trunk Sewer Force Main,” beginning in early 2016. Recent inspections of the 36-year-old pipeline have revealed areas of severe deterioration. The consent decree also requires the development of an emergency response plan in the event of another pipeline rupture that must be submitted to DEP by January 20, 2015. For each day the Township misses a specified deadline listed in the consent decree, the Township must pay an additional penalty of $100.
The Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited is dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.
The groups were represented by the Boston-based, non-profit National Environmental Law Center, which represent citizen groups across the country in actions to enforce the nation’s environmental laws.