Mount Vernon Agrees to Spend $100M To Repair Clean Water, Sewer Violations

NEW YORKDamian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Lisa F. Garcia, the Regional Administrator for Region 2 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announced on Sept. 19 that the United States and the State of New York have entered into a civil Consent Decree with the City of Mount Vernon to resolve ongoing litigation regarding the city’s non-compliance with Clean Water Act requirements for municipal storm sewers, which has caused raw sewage to be discharged into the Bronx and Hutchinson rivers.

The Consent Decree requires Mount Vernon to perform sewer system repairs that Mount Vernon estimates will cost in excess of $100 million. 

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, “This important settlement provides a path forward for the City of Mount Vernon to comply with the Clean Water Act, protect water quality, and address the needs of its residents who are living with the unlawful discharge of sewage and illicit pollutants. My office remains committed to protecting human health and the environment in overburdened and underserved communities such as Mount Vernon, and beyond.”

Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn

According to the allegations in the June 28, 2018 complaint, the Consent Decree filed on Sept. 19, and other court records:

In June 2018, the United States sued Mount Vernon, alleging that since at least January 2012, Mount Vernon had failed to comply with these permit obligations and, as a result, had allowed raw sewage to flow into its storm sewer system and then to be discharged into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers.  The complaint also alleged that Mount Vernon had failed to comply with two EPA Administrative Orders issued to compel Mount Vernon’s adherence to these requirements.  New York State joined the United States as co-plaintiff in this lawsuit.

In September 2020, the District Court granted the governments’ motion for summary judgment and entered an order requiring Mount Vernon to take various steps to come into compliance with Clean Water Act MS4 requirements. However, after the court order was entered, Mount Vernon repeatedly missed deadlines and reporting obligations, forcing the governments to obtain multiple subsequent court orders compelling compliance and imposing financial sanctions against Mount Vernon.

Despite this need for enforcement efforts, as reflected in the Consent Decree, Mount Vernon has made progress on its compliance obligations. Much work, however, remains to be done.  New York State has provided or committed to provide significant financial assistance to Mount Vernon to fund repairs to the City’s sewers.

Among other requirements, the Consent Decree provides the following:

  •  Mount Vernon must construct two pump stations designed to eliminate identified sources of potential infiltration to the MS4.
  • Mount Vernon must either eliminate all other sources of illicit discharges within 30 days of identifying them or submit a binding plan for EPA’s and New York State’s approval for addressing specific sources that require a longer period to eliminate.
  • Immediately upon identifying sanitary sewer overflows that could cause illicit discharges into the MS4, Mount Vernon must take steps to mitigate those overflows.
  • Mount Vernon must complete a Sewer System Evaluation Survey and submit for EPA’s and New York State’s approval a Sewer System Corrective Action Plan “that addresses structural, operational, and maintenance issues for each of the conditions identified in the Sewer System Evaluation Survey.” The SSCAP will be binding and enforceable under the Consent Decree.
  • Mount Vernon must implement its updated Stormwater Management Program Plan for its MS4 and its Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance program for its sanitary sewers.
  • Mount Vernon must keep its mapping of sewer system outfalls current.
  • Mount Vernon must continue to engage engineering and financial experts to help manage its sewer system compliance.
  • Mount Vernon must undertake transparency and environmental justice measures, including by “evaluating any potential adverse impacts of construction, repairs, and other actions undertaken pursuant to [the Consent Decree] on overburdened and underserved populations” and “mitigating any such potential adverse impacts of construction, repairs, and other actions . . . to the maximum extent possible consistent with such work.”
  • The Consent Decree also provides for a $200,000 civil penalty to resolve the governments’ claims for civil penalties for the violations alleged in the complaint. Of that, $100,000 will be paid to the United States. $100,000 will be owed to New York State with payment suspended unless Mount Vernon fails to comply with the Consent Decree.

In the Consent Decree, Mount Vernon also admits, acknowledges, and accepts responsibility for a host of regulatory deficiencies, including:

  • Since at least 2013, Mount Vernon has not been in compliance with the permit applicable to its MS4 because it has not fully implemented and enforced an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Program.
  • Mount Vernon has not provided funding, equipment, and staffing levels necessary to implement and enforce an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination Program.
  • Mount Vernon did not complete an outfall reconnaissance inventory for all MS4 outfalls until 2022.
  • Mount Vernon submitted annual reports later than the deadlines in June 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.
  • Mount Vernon did not submit accurate information in its 2017 and 2018 Annual Reports regarding its completions of the Outfall Reconnaissance Inventory.

Moreover, at least up to and including the time the complaint was filed, Mount Vernon also failed to meet the following permit requirements:

  • Mount Vernon did not maintain a map showing all outfall locations, all surface waters receiving outfall discharges, and all stormsewer sheds.
  • Mount Vernon did not adopt measurable goals for the detection, elimination and reduction of illicit discharges.
  • Mount Vernon did not adequately inform the public about the hazards of illegal discharges.
  • Mount Vernon did not select and implement measures to reduce the amount of pollutants of concern in storm water discharges.
  • The Mount Vernon MS4 has discharged and at times continues to discharge untreated sewage into the Bronx and Hutchinson rivers.
  • Mount Vernon did not comply with two administrative orders issued by EPA to compel Mount Vernon’s compliance with the General Permit and the Clean Water Act.
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