Cumberland officials: Settlement with DEM costly, but best option

Cumberland officials: Settlement with DEM costly, but best option

CUMBERLAND – An agreement reached between local officials and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will cost the town substantial dollars, but put to rest a dispute going back more than a decade.

Town Council members, at a meeting this month, said a consent agreement with the DEM will have a “significant financial impact” in the near future, but members conceded that the settlement negotiated by Assistant Solicitor Chris Alger and Public Works Director Robert Anderson was probably the best outcome for the town, especially since there were limited options.

Town leaders are calling this a “reasonable settlement.” Instead of paying an $87,500 fine to the DEM, town officials were given the option to instead use that same amount to purchase two pieces of equipment for doing work on town-operated “small municipal storm sewer systems,” or “MS4s.” If officials buy a mini excavator and drain pipe camera system, the DEM is dropping its complaint.

The town, like many others in Rhode Island, was cited for unauthorized discharge of storm water into local bodies of water, including the Blackstone River.

Much of the additional cost from the settlement, estimated between $200,000 and $300,000 over the next few years, will come with the actual work of addressing the violations, including finding the drains and outfalls, or places where a sewer empties into a body of water. The town must now keep accurate records of where violations are happening.

DEM officials find that the agreement with Cumberland “is a reasonable and fair settlement and adequately protects the public interest in accordance” with Rhode Island’s Water Pollution Act and the DEM’s water quality regulations and regulations for the state’s pollutant discharge elimination system. The work on the sewer systems will lead to cleaner water in Cumberland’s waterways, states the agreement.

DEM officials contacted town officials early last year to inform them again that the unauthorized discharge of storm water was a violation of state regulations and that the state would be pursuing legal action.

Cumberland originally got coverage under a state permit on storm sewer discharge in 2004, but town officials then failed to respond when DEM officials commented on the town’s storm water management program in 2005, leading to the town no longer being covered under the permit. Town officials say DEM didn’t appear serious about enforcing consequences for the violation until last year.

Under the agreement being signed by Mayor Bill Murray, Cumberland officials must complete a survey and map all outfalls, inspect all catch basins and manholes for sediment and clean them, and submit an annual report on work. The mini excavator will be used to fix and replace drain pipes in spots that are difficult to access, like the woods or in congested areas where larger pieces of equipment can’t fit.