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Mayor wants council to mull court ruling; Another appeal of decision on sewage treatment plant?

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - Mayor Joseph M. Petty wants the City Council to meet in executive session next week to consider possible responses - including another appeal - to the recent federal court decision on upgrades to the sewage treatment plant in Millbury.

A federal court upheld the implementation of long-delayed more stringent limits on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution discharges from the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District plant.

He said the council needs to decide whether it wants to appeal the decision of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals - the mayor said it is his understanding that the next stop would be the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Petty said the stakes are high for the city because the cost of complying with more stringent limits on nitrogen and phosphorus discharges at the Upper Blackstone plant has been pegged at $200 million.

In addition, the annual operational costs of the plant would increase by $5 million, according to city officials, who added that the cost of compliance would increase annual sewer fees for city water users by $225.

"This decision puts those costs on the back of the taxpayers of Worcester," Mr. Petty said last night. "It's also a huge hit for the city of Worcester. The costs associated with this decision could also have an impact on our school (building) projects and other major capital projects we have planned because we only have just so much money as a city."

In addition to the upgrades to the Upper Blackstone plant, the city is facing a potential $1.2 billion bill for a pending Stormwater Permit issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act, as well as other Clean Water Act measures that could cost between $5 million and $20 million.

Mr. Petty said he has discussed the matter with City Manager Michael V. O'Brien and he has also reached out to local state legislators and U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester.

The City Council executive session will be held at the conclusion of Tuesday night's meeting.

"Even if we go ahead with the $200 million upgrades to the Upper Blackstone plant, the impact on improving the water quality of the Blackstone River could be negligible," the mayor said. "So, what would be the point?"

Worcester is one of several communities that send sewage to the Upper Blackstone plant. Based on its flow volume to the plant, the city pays about 85 percent of the plant costs.

The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals last week lifted a stay of enforcement that had been in place since April 2011 regarding the more stringent discharge limits, after court-sponsored mediation efforts between the Upper Blackstone District and the EPA failed to break the impasse between two parties over the new pollution limits.

The three-judge panel said the EPA's decision to set those new discharge limits for the treatment plant was supported by scientific record and was not premature.

It also said cost considerations for meeting the new discharge limits may not be considered by the EPA in the setting of permit limits to assure compliance with state water quality standards.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 9, 2012
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