Legal Action Against Penn. Municipality Protects Valley Forge
PHILADELPHIA—It took the threat of an NELC lawsuit for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to require Tredyffrin Township and its Municipal Authority to repair and replace an aging pipeline responsible for sewage discharges into Valley Creek.
The sewer line runs through Valley Forge National Historical Park and has ruptured on three separate occasions in the last two years. In the two most recent pipeline failures, occurring in February and March, 2014, the Township intentionally pumped millions of gallons of raw sewage directly into Valley Creek, a high-quality trout stream and a popular recreational area.
In a letter written this past September on behalf of PennEnvironment and the Valley Forge Chapter of Trout Unlimited, NELC attorneys notified the Township and Municipal Authority that each discharge of sewage into Valley Creek violated Section 301(a) of the federal Clean Water Act. Because the underlying causes of the sewage spills had not been resolved and no emergency plan had been put in place, the letter stated the groups’ intent to file suit in federal court within 60 days to protect public health and the environment from future pipeline breaks.
Just under 60 days later, the DEP obtained judicial approval for a plan to fix and replace the aging, failure-prone sewage pipeline. The settlement includes a penalty of $110,500 against Tredyffrin Township for violations associated with the sewage discharges.
“All along, PennEnvironment and Trout Unlimited have stated that our top priority is to see a comprehensive solution to the sewage pipeline ruptures plaguing Valley Forge and the Valley Creek, and not to see the inside of a courtroom,” said PennEnvironment
Director David Masur. “The settlement with Pennsylvania DEP assesses an appropriate financial penalty for Tredyffrin’s ongoing environmental violations, and contains a proactive plan for avoiding future sewage blowouts.”
In the consent decree, Judge Jacqueline C. Cody of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas declared that Tredyffrin Township Municipal Authority had violated the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law during each of the three sewer line failures occurring since 2012. The decree requires payment of $110,500 for these violations, $38,000 of which will help fund the preparation of a stream bank stabilization and floodplain restoration design for 945 feet of the severely eroded stream bank of Valley Creek.
“Even after two years of increasingly severe sewage pipeline breaks, there had been no emergency response plan other than ‘dump the sewage in the creek,’ and no plan to replace this aging pipeline,” said Pete Goodman, a former president of Trout Unlimited’s Valley Forge Chapter who has fished in Valley
Creek for more than 40 years. “Trout Unlimited feels that we have fulfilled our role as environmental stewards by helping to drive this outcome.”
Valley Creek has been designated as an “Exceptional Value” stream—the state’s highest water quality classification— by the DEP, and as a “Class A wild trout stream” by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
“One of the most effective aspects of the federal Clean Water Act is that it empowers local residents and citizen groups to take action when the local polluter and environmental regulators won’t,” said Masur. “This case is a perfect example of how concerned citizens can use the law to achieve speedy and effective resolution of serious environmental problems.”
The consent decree includes a schedule requiring replacement of the pipeline beginning in early 2016. It also requires the immediate development of an emergency response plan that can be deployed in the event of another pipeline rupture.