Fort Smith, Ark. Agrees to Sewer System Upgrades

The city government has pledged to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act after years of releasing untreated sewage from its municipal sewage system.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Arkansas announced Jan. 2 that the city of Fort Smith, Ark., has agreed to spend more than $200 million during the next 12 years to upgrade its sewer collection and treatment system in order to reduce discharges of raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways. The settlement, which is subject to a 30-day comment period and requires a federal judge's approval, will require the city to pay a $300,000 civil penalty and spend $400,000 on a program to help qualified, low-income residential property owners to repair or replace defective private sewer lines that connect to the city's system.

Fort Smith's government posted a summary of the settlement agreement in early December 2014 that notes Fort Smith has been under an administrative order from EPA since 1989 to remedy sewer system violations of the Clean Water Act. City residents approved sales tax bone issuances in the early 2000s to make improvements, and the work done to date has reduced wet weather sewer overflows by 79 percent, according to the summary. "There remains considerable construction work to remediate the remaining overflow locations," it states.

According to the DOJ news release, the city has reported more than 2,000 releases of untreated sewage from its municipal sewage system since 2004, resulting in more than 119 million gallons of raw sewage flowing into local waterways, including the Arkansas River.

"This settlement will achieve long overdue improvements in the city’s sewer system that will substantially reduce the number of sewage discharges and help assure that the citizens of Fort Smith reside in a safe and clean environment," said Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resource Division.

The city will repair all sewer pipe segments and manholes that are likely to fail within the next 10 years, develop projects to improve its sewers' performance, and implement a program to reduce the introduction of fats, oil, and grease into its system, to reduce root intrusion, and to clean the system of debris that can cause sanitary sewer overflows, according to DOJ.

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