Penn Yan pays fine for spill

Gwen Chamberlain
The Penn Yan Wastewater Treatment Plant on Elmwood Avenue.

The village board will pay a $5,000 fine to the Department of Environmental Conservation and take steps to prevent future spills of effluent from the sewage treatment plant. But if Penn Yan does not comply with the order issued after a summer spill of sludge that entered the Keuka Lake Outlet, the village could be on the hook for another $42,580.

On Aug. 24, the village reported a 35,000 gallon spill that resulted in sludge from the sewage treatment plant entering the Keuka Lake Outlet. That spill caused significant concerns from people who draw drinking water from Seneca Lake in the area of the Keuka Outlet near Dresden. Immediately after the spill, village officials advised people to not enter or to let their pets enter the Keuka Lake Outlet. Following the spill, members of the public raised concerns about how downstream neighbors were notified of the potential pollutant in the stream.

In addition to the spill on Aug. 24, according to state officials, between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017, the village reported multiple instances of exceeding the limits of specific discharges from the plant. (Facilities that discharge fluids into a body of water in New York State must seek approval through a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit).

The Village Board agreed to the Consent Order at its Nov. 21 meeting. The agreement is subject to the approval of the DEC, through a signature by Regional Director Paul D’Amato.

State officials have suspended most of the total $47,580 penalty, but if the village fails to meet the conditions of the agreement, it could be required to pay a suspended penalty of $42,580. The DEC has also retained the right to levy additional penalties if the village does not fully comply with the order, which includes four specific compliance areas, each with requirements and timelines.

While the order requires communication with the DEC, and Penn Yan village officials have said they plan to communicate with downstream neighbors in the event of a future spill, this order does not require such communication.

State law authorizes civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day each violation continues.

The village has agreed to:

• Prepare a Spill Prevention Plan to minimize the potential for future spills within three months. That plan must include measures to prevent or stop non-stormwater flows and it could include alarms that include automated calls to facility operators. The systems must be in operation within nine months.

• Provide a system for monitoring inflow and infiltration to the DEC within three months. The system will include the implementation of a home inspection program for the reduction of residential stormwater. The village must report on the work accomplished in this plan to the DEC twice annually.

• Complete specific analysis of the sewage treatment system within three and six months, followed by progress reports every six months.

Why it matters

The Issue: The Penn Yan Wastewater Treatment plant is permitted to discharge some fluids into the Keuka Lake Outlet.

Local Impact: Discharges that exceed the permit specifications, such as the 35,000 sludge spill on Aug. 24 could lead to expensive fines in addition to local water quality concerns.

Why it matters