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Ecology fined town for wastewater violations. This is how Concrete is responding.

The state Department of Ecology has fined Concrete $12,800 for not properly maintaining and operating its plant that releases treated wastewater into the Baker River, which meets the Skagit River.
The state Department of Ecology has fined Concrete $12,800 for not properly maintaining and operating its plant that releases treated wastewater into the Baker River, which meets the Skagit River. Getty Images

The town of Concrete plans to appeal a $12,800 fine the state Department of Ecology issued last week for violations at the town’s wastewater treatment plant.

“Concrete is surprised by Ecology’s decision … and disappointed that it was given no prior notice,” Concrete Mayor Jason Miller said in a prepared statement.

Concrete’s wastewater treatment facility treats sewage from about 400 homes and businesses. The facility releases treated wastewater into the Baker River, which meets the Skagit River about a third of a mile downstream.

The problem, according to Ecology, is that untreated wastewater was routed into the plant’s holding pond, called a lagoon, when more wastewater was coming into the facility than the facility could handle.

According to Ecology, the facility was overwhelmed due to improper maintenance and operation, and the town failed to report dozens of incidents in which untreated wastewater was routed to the lagoon between 2014 and 2017.

Town officials, however, said Ecology has been aware of the issues since the town discovered them through a sewer and wastewater treatment system evaluation in 2014.

Since discovering the issues, the town has been planning a series of repairs and has sought grants from Ecology and other government agencies to help get them done.

In June 2016, Ecology offered the town $975,000 in loans for a project to address some of the issues at the wastewater facility.

In an effort to avoid adding to the town’s debt related to the $8 million wastewater treatment plant that was built between 2006 and 2008, the town sought grant funding from a U.S. Department of Agriculture program instead, Town Clerk Andrea Fichter said.

That grant was awarded and design of the project – involving replacing pipes and other infrastructure along the sewer system and at the wastewater treatment plant – is underway, Fichter said.

Meanwhile, the town began work on other sewer and wastewater treatment facility improvements in 2016, and that year Ecology recognized the Concrete wastewater treatment facility for perfect performance in 2015.

That marked the first time Concrete received Ecology’s annual Wastewater Treatment Plant Outstanding Performance Award, being one of six in Skagit County and one of 119 statewide to be recognized that year.

Ecology’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Outstanding Performance Awards recognize plants that have achieved perfect performance, meaning they complied with permits when it comes to meeting pollution levels, filing reports and planning operations.

Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said the state agency learned in October 2016 that the town had not reported all of its discharges into the lagoon.

“Had we known about these violations, we would not have issued the award,” he said.

It’s unclear how the agency determined there were unreported violations.

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