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City faces $18,000 fine for wastewater treatment violations

4/2/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The Environmental Protection Agency has levied an $18,000 fine on the city of Hays for violations committed in 2012 at the city's wastewater treatment facility.

The Hays City Commission will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for a work session in city hall to discuss the issue. Commissioners can opt to pay the penalty or challenge it in court, and city staff has recommended accepting the decision.

The EPA's initial fine was $29,000, but negotiations lowered the figure. The problem stems from the city testing processes to lower nitrates, ammonia and phosphates to create new methods of meeting the strict discharge levels. The unsuccessful experiment led to excessive ammonia levels for several days before staff caught the error and reported it to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The EPA visited the plant in 2013 to interview staff and examine reports. In addition to the initial violation, small non-compliance operational issues were discovered. Staff had resolved all problems, but the EPA still issued the fine.

The aging plant was built when discharge requirements were not as stringent, according to the session's agenda. Replacing the plant would cost $35 million.

"The upgrades to the waste water treatment facility is a very fluid process. Originally, when our permit was due, our intent was to work with the state, adjusting the process to see if we could curb the various levels that need to come down as required by regulation," said Paul Briseno, assistant Hays city manager. "Because of that process, we eventually violated our permit. Therefore, it's tough to say that we would go through that process again."

City staff is investigating possible changes to the facility.

The fine for water runoff from a property or watering during 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. ranges from $50 to $250. A warning is usually issued after the first offense.

Other agenda items include:

* Three vehicle abatements are on the agenda. Two abandoned vehicles are located at 510 W. 23rd, one is at 1309 Donald Drive and third vehicle is at 1812 E. 27th.

* Upgrades to Hays Regional Airport will be debated. The city has Federal Aviation Administration funds available to offset the expense, and the city will pay approximately $445,000 of the $1.1 million cost.

* A proposal to award a contract for the review and rewrite of zoning regulations will be considered. The process will cost $150,000 and last 14 months.

* Commissioners will discuss snow removal from sidewalks.

* Commissioners will review rules of procedure.