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DEP fines AWA for 2 incidents

The state Department of Environmental Protection has fined the Altoona Water Authority a total of about $44,000 for two occurrences in 2019 — one each connected with the Easterly and Westerly sewer treatment plants.

The fines were levied through a consent order in August 2020 that only recently came to the attention of the Mirror, although the Mirror reported on each of the initial occurrences in 2019.

The department fined the authority $20,400 for violating the Clean Streams Law and departmental regulations with the collapse of a 30-inch combined sewer “outfall” pipe along the Little Juniata River, not far from the Easterly plant, due to the river changing course and undermining the pipe.

The breakage allowed the contents of the pipe to flow into the river from the spot about a quarter-mile north of the North Eighth Street Bridge in Juniata for an unknown period of time.

A DEP official discovered the 32-foot-long break while investigating a fish kill upstream that probably had nothing to do with the break, officials said then.

Authority workers stopped the flow of effluent within two hours of learning about the collapse, Sewer Operations Director Todd Musser said at the time.

The authority made a temporary bypass after the break, before making a permanent repair, officials said then.

DEP imposed the fine for the accidental break based on the presumption that the authority should have recognized and discovered the problem sooner, based on a reduction in flow to the Easterly plant due to the break, and on the general principle that the authority should maintain the integrity of its lines, authority General Manager Mark Perry said on Friday.

“The DEP looked at the failure of AWA to properly monitor or inspect the erosion of the streambank and/or condition of the sewer interceptor as a ‘failure to take appropriate measure,'” the department stated in an email in answer to a question from the Mirror recently. “AWA failed to monitor/inspect these sewer interceptors at a frequency to adequately prevent exposure by streambank erosion.”

The incident has led the authority to be more vigilant about flows to the plant and about maintenance of the line next to the river, Perry said.

That vigilance has led to shoring up the riverbank against erosion in vulnerable spots, Perry said.

“We’re proactive now,” Perry said.

The DEP also found the authority at fault for the pipe collapse because it took more than four hours to officially notify DEP about the break, according to a department spokesman.

The department also fined the authority $23,500 for violating the Clean Streams law and the Solid Waste Disposal Act by using unlined and non-permitted pits on the Westerly property for drying mildly contaminated debris collected on screens at its combined sewer overflow tanks, along with silt the authority had accepted as waste from an outside pipeline project.

“The authority made a mistake,” Musser told the Mirror at the time.

The Solid Waste Management Act prohibits the placing of “any solid waste onto the surface of the ground without a permit,” according to the original violation notice.

The CSO tank screenings are considered contaminated because they have come into contact with raw sewage diluted with storm runoff that flows into the tanks from the combined sewer system in the central parts of the city when it rains hard.

The authority dried the material in the pits to avoid the expense of trucking the heavier wet material to the landfill, according to Perry.

After the department found the Westerly violation, the authority used sawdust to further dry the material in the pits, then trucked it to a landfill.

Since that time, the authority has simply trucked that sort of wet material directly to the landfill, Perry said.

The authority never buried the screenings, according to Perry.

The authority didn’t hinder the DEP from investigating or prosecuting the Westerly case and didn’t lie to the authority about it, according to the department spokesman.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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