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Sandpoint To Expand Watershed Land Holdings

Release Date: 12/30/1998
Contact Information: Leroy Loiselle
loiselle.leroy@epamail.epa.gov
(206) 553-6901


December 30, 1998 - - - - - - - - - - 98-65 


       

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sandpoint, Idaho, will add to its land holdings inside the watershed from which the city gets its drinking water, according to an agreement between the city and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The agreement  settles an EPA complaint that Sandpoint wasn't doing all that the law requires to make sure that several commercial enterprises in the city  were properly pre-treating their wastewater before sending it to the Sandpoint municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Announcement of the settlement was made today  by Leroy Loiselle, manager of the  water compliance unit in EPA’s regional office in Seattle.

"By terms of the settlement, Sandpoint will purchase at least 60 acres of land within the watershed that is now under private ownership," Loiselle said.  "Once the land is under Sandpoint’s control, the acreage will no longer be available for development -- the city will see to it that the purchased land will be preserved for the protection of the watershed.

"This commitment by Sandpoint to help safeguard the watershed is far preferable to the normal outcome of EPA enforcement actions.  Usually, cases are wrapped up by payment of a large monetary penalty that goes into the U.S. Treasury back East.  With this kind of settlement, there’s a direct benefit for the local environment."

Sandpoint’s drinking water comes from a watershed north of the city, several miles from the city’s wastewater treatment plant on the south edge of town at the shore of Lake Pend Oreille.      

     According to Loiselle, EPA took enforcement action against Sandpoint because the city  failed to take a number of required follow-up actions once it learned that several industrial contributors to the  municipal wastewater treatment plant were not properly pre-treating the wastes they sent to the plant.  The plant discharges into Lake Pend Oreille near the point where it flows into the Pend Oreille River.

"Contributors to the treatment plant must pre-treat their wastes to prevent overloading the plant with certain pollutants," Loiselle said.  "If those pollutants are sent to the plant in concentrations exceeding previously agreed-upon limits, there’s the risk that the overloading will interfere with the plant’s ability to properly treat the water discharged from the plant to the lake."

Loiselle said the EPA complaint did not allege that effluent discharged to the lake actually harmed water quality, nor did EPA assert that the pre-treatment violations overtaxed the plant’s treatment capacity.  

Among the violations included in the complaint was the allegation that Sandpoint did not publicize the exceedances of the pre-treatment limits.

"It’s important that the public be told when contributors of wastes send pollutants to the treatment plant in concentrations that could be harmful to the operation of the plant and water quality conditions in Lake Pend Oreille," said Loiselle.  "It’s their plant and their lake, and  -- by terms of the federal Clean Water Act -- the people of Sandpoint are entitled to be told when pre-treatment limits have not been met."

       The exceedances of the pre-treatment limits involved wastes from five different industrial sources, and included fats, oils, grease, benzene, ethyl benzene, xylene, toluene and a number of substances that could deplete the oxygen content of the Lake Pend Oreille.  The violations were said by EPA to have occurred on numerous occasions between 1993 and 1997.

By terms of the settlement with EPA, Sandpoint agreed to spend at least $120,000 to purchase no less that 60 acres of watershed land.  In addition, the city also agreed to pay a civil  penalty of $5,900.