The city of Perth Amboy, N.J., has agreed to spend $5.4 million to repair, upgrade and expand its combined sewer system and pay a $17,000 penalty as part of an EPA settlement for Clean Water Act violations. Under the agreement signed June 6 in federal court, the city must reduce the amount of sewage and other pollutants that flow out of 16 combined sewer points into the Raritan and Arthur Kill rivers. The consent decree is pending a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

Photo by Dr. Wansoo Im for
The city aims to reduce sewage and pollution flow into the Raritan (pictured) and Arthur Kills rivers.

Perth Amboy violated the Clean Water Act and its N.J. Dept. of Environmental Protection discharge permit by failing to properly maintain and operate its system, conduct regular inspections and have a pollution prevention plan in place, EPA says. The city also violated a previously issued EPA order to address Clean Water Act violations.

The city is not alone in facing such problems, says Robert Briant Jr., CEO of the N.J. Utility and Transportation Contractors Association, Allenwood. "It is not unusual for EPA to take these types of actions because, unfortunately, cities [nationwide] are deferring maintenance and repairs, which affects the quality of life and our waterways," Briant says. "We just can't ignore these things anymore."

Under the EPA agreement, Perth Amboy will increase the amount of wastewater that reaches a treatment plant; reduce its combined sewer overflows into the rivers; conduct annual inspections of all of its combined sewer system control facilities; and develop and implement a system overflow pollution prevention plan.

EPA says that Perth Amboy, responding to the agency's earlier enforcement efforts, has already completed inspection and engineering assessment of its sewer system. Based on this research, the city will develop a plan to fix problems identified and do further work to separate pipes so that some will only carry wastewater from buildings to the wastewater treatment plant instead of a combination of domestic wastewater and stormwater. Work already under way and work yet to be undertaken must be completed by Dec. 31, 2016, EPA says.

EPA estimates that nearly 370 million gallons a year of sewage flow into the rivers through Perth Amboy's combined sewer system. Statewide, however, 30 combined sewer systems discharge 23 billion gallons of sewage and other pollutants a year into N.J.'s major waterways, EPA says.

Briant says that cities need help and points to legislation that U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) is cosponsoring that would provide cities with grants to address stormwater and combined sewer system issues. "This would provide about $2.4 billion or $2.8 billion in grants and loans to get these things done," Briant says.