Storm-sewer overflow incidents accrue in Delmont
Since the spring of 2015, Delmont officials have reported 39 instances of overflow at the Cramer Pump Station, part of the same sewage line that has been discharging a mixture of stormwater and raw sewage onto the Rock Springs Trust property in Salem Township.
And while each instance constitutes a violation of state environmental regulations, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the borough has rarely been cited as officials work to remedy a situation that has persisted for two decades.
During moderate to heavy rain, one of several manholes at the trust property has regularly discharged a mixture of raw sewage and stormwater on land and into Beaver Run.
Since March 2015, the 39 overflows on the Cramer Pump Station line have totaled more than 2.4 million gallons, according to the DEP. Each of the regular monthly reports is accompanied by a letter in which borough officials reference the overflow as “permitted outfall.”
DEP spokeswoman Lauren Fraley said there is no such thing.
“Sanitary sewer overflows are never permitted under DEP regulations,” she said.
Beginning in March, the DEP required the borough to begin filing incident reports to document the overflows. The agency has received three such reports since then.
Julie Rebitch, a member of the Rock Springs Trust, thinks Delmont officials need a lesson in basic physics.
Rebitch, a Salem Township resident, questioned why borough public works employees chose in late April to seal one of the manholes on trust property. Members of the borough's sewer committee told her the DEP ordered that it be sealed.
DEP officials say that is not true.
“DEP has not required that Delmont seal manholes,” Fraley said. “But (we) will advise on and consider plans put forth by Delmont to eliminate (storm-sewer overflows).”
Councilman David Weber, who referenced the nonexistent DEP order at council's June meeting, said he misunderstood the situation. Borough engineer Kevin Brett said work on the manholes was part of a project discussed with DEP officials in April.
“This action is typical on many projects and not abnormal, and was part of the original design,” Brett said in an email.
Rebitch said it makes no sense to her.
“If you lock down one manhole, does it not stand to reason that the discharge is going to come out somewhere else?” Rebitch asked council.
When days of heavy rain fell in mid-June, that is precisely what happened: additional manholes on the property, which had not previously experienced heavy discharge, began to spew a combination of stormwater and sewage, as did one of the toilets on the first floor of Rebitch's home.
“Delmont Borough is now actively contaminating new areas of the private property held by the Rock Springs Trust,” Rebitch said.
DEP officials cited the borough for an April 6 violation of the state's Clean Streams Law, when two manholes were found to be discharging into Beaver Run.
Councilman and sewage committee member David Piper said the overflows are the result of stormwater infiltrating the sewage system.
“Determining where the water came from, or what property (rights of way) may have influenced an actual overflow incident is an impossible task,” Piper said. “That is why we systematically monitor and attempt to reduce infiltration of water into the system at as many points as practicable.”
Piper said the only alarm system borough officials receive about overflows comes from the Cramer pump station.
“It doesn't identify any place in the system that may be experiencing extremely high flows of water,” Piper said. “Should water flows and levels increase where there is potential for water to discharge from a manhole opening, this would have to be observed.”
Weber said borough crews are working their way up the line from the Rock Springs Trust property to identify where stormwater infiltration is occurring.
Fraley said DEP is “pursuing actions” to address sewage issues in Delmont but declined to discuss specifics.
“We're exploring enforcement options, and that's all we can really say right now,” she said.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862.