Environmental Protection

City of Unalaska Agrees to Extensive Sewer System Upgrade in Federal Settlement

The city of Unalaska, Alaska, will undertake a major upgrade of its municipal sewage treatment plant under a settlement of a Clean Water Act enforcement action filed against the city and the state of Alaska by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Under the proposed settlement, Unalaska will spend at least $18 million to upgrade its treatment plant over the next three years to meet the requirements of its current National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which was issued by EPA under the Clean Water Act. The city has also committed to adhere to fecal coliform limits that are 50 times more stringent than the current permit’s limits.

The Clean Water Act lawsuit, filed in June 2011, alleged that the city continually violated its NPDES permit by discharging pollutants into South Unalaska Bay in excess of discharge permit limits. According to monitoring reports that the city is required to file with EPA, Unalaska’s treatment plant had more than 5,500 violations of permit limits between October 2004 and September 2011, including discharges of harmful fecal coliform bacteria that were often more than double the permit limit.

The treatment plant upgrade will significantly reduce the level of pollution, including fecal coliform bacteria, being discharged into Unalaska Bay, which is part of the Bering Sea. The city will also pay a $340,000 penalty for past NPDES permit violations.

“This agreement will result in cleaner water in Unalaska Bay, which is home to a vital commercial fishery as well as protected wildlife,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Unalaska residents and the fishermen who depend on the Bay will be the beneficiaries of this agreement for many years to come.”

Edward Kowalski, director of EPA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement in Seattle, noted that today’s agreement paves the way for a long-overdue enhancement of the City’s primary wastewater treatment process.

“Today’s settlement represents an investment in Unalaska’s future,” said EPA’s Kowalski. “By agreeing to modernize its wastewater treatment plant, the City of Unalaska will help protect the waters of Unalaska Bay and meet current discharge permit limits.”

With a year-round population of approximately 4,400, Unalaska (commonly known as Dutch Harbor), is Alaska’s 11th largest city. Lying roughly 800 miles southwest of Anchorage in the Aleutian Island chain, Dutch Harbor serves as homeport to one of the nation’s most productive commercial fishing fleets, supporting both industrial-scale fishing and fish processing. During the height of the fishing season, Unalaska’s population more than doubles, reaching as high as 10,000.

Unalaska Bay is protected for a number of uses, including boating, recreational and commercial fishing, and shellfish harvest. It also provides habitat for several endangered or threatened species, including northern sea otters and Steller’s eiders, a species of sea duck. However, the Bay is currently listed as an impaired water-body, which means it fails to meet state water quality standards.

As required by the Clean Water Act, the State of Alaska must be a party to this action. The Department of Justice will be taking public comment on the settlement for a period of 30 days from publication of a notice of the settlement, which should appear shortly in the Federal Register. After resolution of all comments received, the settlement will be entered in federal court. It will take effect on the day it is entered by the court. A copy of the settlement agreement can be obtained at: www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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