City faces $15,000 sewage spill fine

Ruptured line released about 50 million gallons

System overhaul `under way'

July 07, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

State and federal officials announced yesterday that they will fine Baltimore $15,000 for a roughly 50 million-gallon sewage spill in May, one of many breakdowns of the city's ancient and leaky sewage system.

Over the past two years, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have fined the city more than $800,000 for numerous sewage spills into waterways that flow toward the Chesapeake Bay.

City public works officials said yesterday that they hope these problems will be solved in the next few years by a huge, $940 million project to rebuild the city's sewage system. The reconstruction is required by a 2002 consent decree that ended a federal and state lawsuit against the city for illegally discharging at least 100 million gallons of sewage into the Patapsco River and other waterways between 1996 and 2002.

"The fix is under way," said Richard McIntire, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

On May 25, the city reported to the state that 8.5 million gallons of sewage a day were pouring into a tributary to the Gwynns Falls. The leak, which continued for several days, was caused by the collapse of a 39-inch, brick-and-concrete sewage line built in the 1920s about 30 feet under Braddish Avenue and Winchester Street in West Baltimore.

Jay Sakai, chief of the city Public Works Department's Bureau of Water and Wastewater, said yesterday that officials don't know what caused that break, the worst for a sewage line in the city in about a year.

To halt the flow of pollutants, city workers installed a balloonlike plug, and then diverted the sewage through a series of pipes and pumps to the Back River Sewage Treatment Plant.

Last week, the city realized that the balloon had ripped, and that another 1.5 million gallons of sewage had leaked into a tributary to the Gwynns Falls, city and state officials said. The state is studying whether to fine the city more money for this most recent spill, McIntire said.

To stop this second leak underneath Braddish Avenue, city workers installed another plug. They plan to complete a repair of the broken line in about two weeks, Sakai said.

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