Posted August 16, 2019, 10:14pm
Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette
by Laurinda Joenks | August 17, 2019 at 1:05 a.m
Bethel Heights faces $122,000 in fines for violations of its wastewater treatment plants, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality told the city Friday.
Two of the violations -- at $26,400 each -- claim the city provided false statements in its required reporting to the state, according to the Environmental Quality notice.
The city failed to report violations of its permit in a three-month report covering May, June and July, the notice reads. The city's monthly reports submitted to the state showed no violations of the plants' permit limits, which contradicts the three-month report the city also filed.
Other fines listed by the state include: $11,000 for wastewater pooling on the ground; $8,800 for wastewater runoff of the treatment fields; $6,600 for three incidents of releasing more fecal coliform and biological solids than the plant's permit allows; and $13,200 for failing to stay in compliance with the permit.
In addition, the city was levied three, $10,000 fines for violations of the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act.
The state noted the city's treatment fields ultimately channel water into Puppy Creek to Spring Creek to the Illinois River.
City officials may appeal the department's findings by submitting a request for a hearing over the next 20 days. The public also will have 30 days to comment, starting Aug. 25. Payment of the fines is due in 30 days if the city does not appeal.
Environmental Quality fined the city $6,400 in 2015 for permit violations, but reduced that to $4,160 at the city's request, according to state records.
Neither Bethel Heights officials nor an attorney retained by the city returned requests for comment Friday evening.
Bethel Heights' two wastewater plants have operated for at least five years out of compliance with their permits, according to records from the state.
The state on Aug. 6 ordered Bethel Heights to remove wastewater by truck from its treatment plants daily. The state ordered the city to remove 25% of its daily 80,000 gallons of wastewater -- or no less than 20,000 gallons a day -- until wastewater stops surfacing on the treatment plants' drip fields.
The city's wastewater system consists of a septic tank, pumped sewage collection system -- also known as a STEP system. Wastewater is collected at individual residences in septic tanks and pumped to the city's treatment plants. The systems distribute treated water into fields by drip irrigation.
The city has delivered three trucks a day, totaling about 10,000 gallons of wastewater per day to the Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority's wastewater plant in south Bentonville, Mike Neil said Thursday. Neil, the plant manager, said the deliveries have been ongoing since the city signed a contract with the authority July 29. The regional treatment facility collects waste via drainage systems from south Bentonville, Tontitown and Elm Springs. Bethel Heights is the only city from which the facility will accept wastewater via truck, Neil said. "We're doing it as a favor to Bethel Heights while they get back on their feet," he said. "And we want to make sure it's done correctly."
The contract with the conservation authority was part of Bethel Heights' plan for cleaning and repairing its plants submitted to the state Aug. 8. The state ordered the plan May 6 in response to a February inspection finding numerous permit violations.
Environmental Quality gave the city 90 days to submit a plan for correcting the violations. The agency called the correction plan submitted by the city "inadequate" in its Friday notice. The state said the plan didn't include all of the required elements.
The city's proposal shows a completion date in May 2022 to fix its problems.
The plants were found out of compliance in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Environmental Quality asked the city for corrective plans in each case. The city was found out of compliance again in 2018. The state collected samples around the city's wastewater treatment plants July 16 that showed fecal coliform levels higher than the laboratory tests typically used to monitor wastewater could measure. The department sent the city a letter July 24 giving officials two days to come up with an interim plan to get its sewer problems under control.
The state asked Springdale Water Utilities in early June to refuse water service for new customers in Bethel Heights. Springdale supplies water to the neighboring town.
Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith on Aug. 1 threatened criminal charges against city officials if they don't comply with the state and fix the treatment system.
Bethel Heights released a statement on its website July 26 denying allegations the city operates its plant outside of its permitted limits. The statement was posted after Environmental Quality ordered the city to inform residents of the high concentrations of contaminants in its fields.
Joe Brooks, members of the Charlotte Steele family and members of the Lawrence Bowen family allege the city releases untreated water onto their land and into their ponds, which lie on land adjacent to a treatment plant.
They have started petition drives to consolidate the smaller town into Springdale, allowing Springdale Water Utilities to take over wastewater treatment. Bethel Heights has about 3,000 residents. Leaving one city for another requires petitions filed in favor of the change in both cities. Each of the cities' petitions must have signatures of at least 15% of the number of voters in the last mayoral election. Then voters in each of the towns would have to approve the change. A simple majority vote in each city would pass the measures.
Posted August 16, 2019, 10:14pm
Bethel Heights Officials were VERY MUCH AWARE THAT THEY WERE PUMPING WATER INTO THE PONDS AT RAZORBACK FARMS (Owned by Charlotte Steele where Jason Steele raises his cattle) as far back as June of 2015!
The Minutes of the Bethel Heights Wastewater Committee on June 18, 2015 stated on page 2 where highlighted in the photo, "Member Buchheit asked where the water from the wet wells is being pumped to. Commissioner Williams stated that the plant at Lincoln Street is being pumped to a pond on Razorback Farms property and at Bowen Park on the south side of the walking trail."
The committee also "reviewed the notice from Mayor Black regarding the penalties from ADEQ. Chairman Littrell stated that he is concerned as to why we have a deadline of July 1st to get back in compliance but are getting fined before the deadline date. Mrs. Fenton stated that the City Council would be meeting on June 30th at 6:30 regarding the penalties. Chairman Littrell asked if the penalty could be contested. Commissioner Williams stated that it could be. Member Buchheit questioned the numbers being lowered after the system was designed to meet a different set of limits. Commissioner Williams stated that ADEQ lower the limits."
Bethel Heights officials ACKNOWLEDGED ON RECORD that they were pumping wastewater on private property.
SEE THE FACTS IN THE OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS AS ARCHIVED ON THE CITY OF BETHEL HEIGHTS WEBSITE AT THIS LINK:
Page 2 of June 18, 2015 Wastewater Committee Meeting of Bethel Heights
Bethel Heights elected officials now face criminal charges if the City fails to meet the SPECIFIC requirements of the ADEQ within 30 days. These requirements include an immediate solution to resolve the wastewater treatment practices that violate personal, private property of its neighbors, as well as clean up the properties of the families whose properties have been violated by the City allowing contaminated sewer water to drain onto those properties.
POSTED 4:50 PM, AUGUST 1, 2019, BY 5NEWS WEB STAFF, UPDATED AT 05:05PM, AUGUST 1, 2019
Benton County prosecutor Nathan Smith sent a letter Thursday (July 1) to Mayor Cynthia Black outlining a charge for reckless pollution, which is punishable by five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
The city has 30 days to ensure that wastewater runoff isn't flowing onto private property, as well as implement a cleanup strategy for the private properties.
"(T)he dumping of wastewater on private property constitutes an unconstitutional taking of private property," Smith wrote in the letter.
Staff report | Today at 4:00 p.m.
The Benton County prosecutor gave Bethel Heights officials 30 days to start a plan to fix their sewer system and clean up neighbors' properties or face criminal charges.
Nathan Smith sent the letter to Mayor Cynthia Black this afternoon telling her she was in violation of state law by allowing water or air pollution that could adversely affect human health, animal or plant life or property. Conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine.
Current wastewater treatment practices at Bethel Heights continue to threaten public health, nearby waterways and livestock.
The City of Bethel Heights is illegally dumping untreated sewage onto private property from oversaturated leech fields
The Bethel Height wastewater system has operated in violation of its permit for more than 37 months and counting
Tests show fecal coliform levels 86 times stronger than allowed by its State Permit
ADEQ and Springdale Water Utilities prohibits any new water connections in Bethel Heights pending resolution of all issues
Contact with sewage containing e-Coli is a health hazard that can be life threatening
Cost of sewage service is higher than that of adjoining cities like Springdale
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION to help Bethel Heights property owners annex into the City of Springdale where they will have safe, responsible, compliant, quality services at a MUCH LOWER COST.