DEQ sets fine amount for sewage spill

City crews were quick to secure and clean up the area last summer when a wastewater pump station failed spilling an estimated 26,000 gallons of sewage onto the beach.

Last July, a city wastewater pump failed, which resulted in a sewage spill onto the beach and ultimately a state fine.

“On July 17, a city of Cannon Beach wastewater pump station failed resulting in an estimated 26,000 gallons of sewage flowing onto the beach at the end of Nelchena Street,” as previously reported by The Gazette.

“The city’s Ecola and Matanuska pump stations failed, but since the Ecola was in bypass mode while the city made improvements, only the Matanuska pump overflowed,” according to the city’s report.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in February fined the city of Cannon Beach $1,650 for its wastewater spill, as stated in a DEQ press release. “The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued 15 penalties totaling $1,443,639 in February for various environmental violations. Fines ranged from $1,650 to $458,266.

City Public Works Director Karen La Bonte told The Gazette:

“The fine is for the spill last year. We are paying it and will not challenge it.  We’ve made many improvements to that pump station and have asked for money to continue improvements at other pump stations that are 30 plus years old in the technology that is inside. So we are making positive strides in that respect.

 “If DEQ views these things as preventable they usually come with penalties,” La Bonte said. “Because this involved human error as well as equipment failure, a fine would be in order. I feel fortunate that it is fairly minimal especially in times of impacts our budget has felt as a result of COVID, but none the less it’s still painful. The good thing is we’ve been able to secure some funding at a very low interest rate (1% over 30 years) that comes with some principle forgiveness that has allowed us to make some improvements to not only the Matanuska pump station but several others as well. I feel grateful Council has allowed me to pursue those funding opportunities to address some of these infrastructure deficiencies. Some of those improvements have already occurred with larger ones to be forthcoming when the rest of the funding is received.”

As previously reported in The Gazette: “The spill did not get into the ocean water because it ‘did not meet the tide level,’ the city press release states. The city removed an amount of sand from the spill area and took it to a “secure uninhabited city-owned property site for handling. Barricades and caution tape were placed around the circumference of the affected area, as well as sandwich boards with signs indicating “WARNING: Contaminated Drainage – Do Not Enter”.

 “The initial cause (of the overflow) was associated with air pressure damage experienced in a panel that controls the bubbler system, which also controls some of the key elements of the flow levels that act as the indicator and warning that ultimately trigger alert notices to city staff,” the release states. “Additional discoveries of malfunctioning floats, as well as malfunctions in the auto dialer system were also discovered and contributed to the ultimate overflow condition.”

To read the first story published in the Gazette in August, see https://www.cannonbeachgazette.com/news/city-reacts-to-sewage-spill-on-beach/article_a1ae002c-dc33-11ea-b34f-4beacea7bcd3.html.

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