City, EPA reach deal on lawsuits Agency's suit asked that the city return Clean Water Act funds

Both welcome settlement

Baltimore receives $2.5 million for costs of fixing water plants

August 08, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore has turned an $11 million bill from the federal government into a $2.5 million rebate.

The city and the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday that they have settled a pair of dueling lawsuits filed in 1994 over federal grant money given to Baltimore to improve wastewater-treatment plants.

In the suit filed by the EPA, the federal agency had asked the city to return $11 million -- and interest on the money -- handed out through five federal Clean Water Act grants dating back to 1973.

The money was used to improve city plants and reduce the amount of pollutants released into waterways.

The EPA claimed the city failed to make the improvements before deadlines imposed to ensure completion.

The city objected to the charges and filed a countersuit against the EPA.

The matter was sent to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a mediator, retired North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Harry C. Martin, was assigned.

The city asked that any ruling affecting the five grant payments extend to all 43 grants from the federal government for $270 million that went to Baltimore for improving wastewater plants.

An audit of the grants showed that while Baltimore owed $5.5 million in disputed costs for failing to meet certain deadlines, the EPA owed the city $8 million for costs the city incurred in upgrading the plants.

The agency agreed to give the city the difference.

Both sides welcomed the settlement, saying it will save taxpayers money by reducing legal costs.

"This settlement is a win for the city of Baltimore, the EPA and especially taxpayers," said the EPA's regional administrator, W. Michael McCabe.

City officials hope the settlement will lead to the resolution of lingering disputes with the agency.

Among them is a federal lawsuit filed in December by the EPA and the Maryland Department of the Environment against the city in which the agencies accused Baltimore of polluting Gwynns Falls and the Patapsco River with tainted waste-water from two sewage-treatment facilities.

"This settlement agreement demonstrates that the city of Baltimore and the federal government, working in partnership, are prepared to take proactive steps to address the important issues of environmental protection," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in a statement released yesterday.

Pollution problems in the Chesapeake Bay and last year's outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida, the toxic microbe that killed fish in some Maryland waterways, have heightened concerns over wastewater that is discharged in local waters.

Wastewater discharges, which contain chlorine and phosphorus, are blamed for degrading the bay.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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