Feds Invited To Speak On Hutchinson, Bronx River Discharges In Westchester

With Mount Vernon facing millions of dollars in fines for violating the Clean Water Act, Mayor Richard Thomas has invited members of the federal government to appear at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Dolph Rotfeld, well-respected engineer with over 3 decades of work within Westchester County and owner of Dolph Rotfeld Engineering, P.C., gives us a breakdown of Mount Vernon's sewer situation and his efforts to help move the City forward. Photo Credit: Mayor Richard Thomas

The City of Mount Vernon is facing a lawsuit from the EPA and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for allegedly discharging raw sewage and other pollutants from its storm sewer system into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers. The fines may top $100 million.

Officials announced the lawsuit last month, claiming that Mount Vernon has failed to comply with the Clean Water Act storm sewer permit requirements designed to prevent raw sewage and other illicit pollutants from flowing from the city’s storm sewer system into the rivers.

The lawsuit alleges that Mount Vernon has failed to comply with permit obligations, and, as a result, has allowed raw sewage to flow into its storm sewer system and then to be discharged into the two rivers. The city has also allegedly failed to comply with two EPA Administrative Orders issued to compel the city into compliance.

According to Thomas, in 2008, the city began missing or ignoring EPA directives. Two years ago, Thomas said “the City Council and Comptroller began defunding positions critical to compliance. Things got so bad that a state Supreme Court judge had to order the Comptroller and Council to stop ‘disrupting’ and ‘obstructing’ the Mayor's authority to pay salaries and benefits.” That led to the lawsuit, which was filed this year, Thomas said.

There will be a City Council meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 11, at Mount Vernon City Hall, where federal government representatives have been invited to attend. Those interested in speaking at the meeting must call (914) 665-2352 before 2 p.m. on Wednesday to register.

“Compliance carries a multi-million dollar price tag, which includes the cost of the work, plus fines,” he added. “While funding will be the biggest ongoing challenge - 49 percent of the city's population live at or below the poverty line - some costs can be offset. The $1.8 million cost of the sewer inspections can be reduced to under $200,000 because the City is eligible for a $1.6 million state grant.”

According to Geoffrey Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, many municipalities, including Mount Vernon, operate “municipal separate storm sewer systems” that carry stormwater and discharge it without treatment into nearby waters.

“For years, Mount Vernon has discharged raw sewage and other illicit pollutants from its storm sewer system into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers,” Berman said in a statement. “Mount Vernon has consistently failed to comply with permit requirements intended to prevent these discharges and has flouted EPA administrative orders intended to address the problem.

“The City of Mount Vernon must take the appropriate actions to protect its residents and downstream communities from threats posed by raw sewage and other pollutants,” EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez said. “EPA and New York State will continue to work together with the city to ensure that Mount Vernon understands how to fix the problems with its storm sewer system.

“In addition, we support efforts by the city to seek funding to assist Mount Vernon in getting the necessary work completed.  This complaint gets to the core of EPA’s mission of protecting people’s health, and we will continue to work with the state and city to carry out that mission.”

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