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City agrees to pay $18K federal wastewater fine

4/11/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

The Hays City Commission voted Thursday to accept the federal government’s $18,000 fine for mistakes committed at the city’s wastewater treatment plant in 2011 and 2012.

Excessive levels of ammonia were discharged during nine months in a 13-month period because of a mechanical failure and its lingering effects, said Bernie Kitten, city utilities director. 

The plant was testing new processes to reduce levels of nitrates because the Environmental Protection Agency is pressuring the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to adopt new regulations.

A new plant could cost an estimated $25 million and take three years to build, Kitten said. The proposal is expected to be ready by the end of the year.  

Newly-appointed Mayor Henry Schwaller IV said he believed the penalty was a “bogus charge” because the city was cooperating with the state on the experiment and reported the violations, but the city lacks the resources to challenge it in court. 

“It isn’t that we ignored the law or flaunted the law and wanted to pollute our wastewater, but the fact of the matter is that if we don’t pay the fine, we run the risk of incurring more harm,” Schwaller said. 

“It’s expensive. When you run afoul of the federal government, it is unending litigation.”   

Kitten said any health consequences stemming from the violations only would impact fish. 

Commissioner Ron Mellick did not attend the meeting.

Other business on the agenda:

• Commissioner Eber Phelps was elected as vice mayor. 

• Commissioners approved a 14-month, up to $150,000 contract for Kendig Keast Collaborative to examine the city’s zoning and subdivision regulations. 

The initiative aims to consider how possible changes to housing and development rules could improve the city’s future growth, said I.D. Creech, director of public works.   

Schwaller said he always is wary of hiring a consultant, but the prospect of legal challenges to any changes merits hiring experts. 

“What these plans do and why they’re important to everyone in this community, it tells us what can go in next to your home,” he said. “So as property owners, we are very keen on not having certain things that we consider undesirable. We want to have orderly development.”

Possible scenarios could be a “gentlemen’s club” trying to locate next to a church or a hookah shop opening, he said.

The consultant has done work for Olathe, Lenexa and Topeka.

• The commission approved abatements for three abandoned vehicles. 

There were two vehicles on a vacant property at 510 W. 23rd. The land is owned by Clarence and/or Verlon Monroe, both of McCracken. The city has reported eight various violations at this property in two years.

A vehicle was abandoned at 1309 Donald Drive. Dustin Schreurs owns the property.

No action was needed for an abandoned vehicle at 1812 E. 27th because it was removed. Richard and Tawnita Augustine reside on the property.