State approves sewage treatment plant permit
by Tom Chillemi
On Monday afternoon, a unanimous State Water Control Board (SWCB) approved a discharge permit for a 39,900-gallons-per-day (GPD) treatment plant to serve the Middlesex Courthouse, county offices and part of Saluda.
The treatment plant would discharge into Urbanna Creek and has been opposed by Urbanna area residents who contend the treatment plant will further pollute the creek.
“The time is now to stop point and non-point source pollution into Urbanna Creek,” Robert Montague told the SWCB at Monday’s hearing.
Alternatives to discharging into the creek have not materialized. However, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) is still looking for a site where treated wastewater could be sprayed onto vegetation, which is known as “land application.”
Rick Weeks, regional director for the Piedmont Region and chief deputy of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), told the SWCB it does not have the authority to require alternatives to water discharge of effluent, except on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Middlesex County wastewater consultant Roger Hart told the SWCB the plant will treat about 12,000 GPD when it starts operating.
An 83-house development approved for Saluda would produce 26,000 GPD, noted Hart.
Since 2003, the county has pumped-and-hauled its wastewater for treatment in Gloucester County, and can continue this practice indefinitely. Currently the county produces about 6,000 GPD, said consulting engineer Steve Crowe.
The SWCB added language to the permit to emphasize existing DEQ regulations. Before any sewer lines are built the county must document that the treatment plant has the capacity to treat the extra wastewater.
SWCB member Robert Wayland III of Lancaster County made the motion to approve the plant, adding,”I believe wastewater treatment is the friend, not the enemy, of water quality.”
He said regional treatment plants are preferable to several small plants in areas such as the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. The demise of federal grants has stopped regional wastewater planning, he added.
During discussion on the motion, SWCB member John B. Thompson said, “If we had the authority to require additional alternative methods or land application, we might well have done that. I would urge the county (Middlesex) to continue to consider that, and, if the opportunity becomes economically feasible, to pursue it. It makes a whole lot of sense in this situation.”
SWCB chairman W. Shelton Miles III referred to the fact the permit does not require removal of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus because the Saluda treatment plant will discharge less than 40,000 gallons per day.
“The nutrient issue has slipped through a loophole,” said Miles. “That is frustrating because we are always looking to reduce nutrient loading in the Chesapeake Bay.”
Nutrient reduction is required for facilities treating more than 40,000 GPD.
Miles indicated he was impressed by the opponents’ vision for a cleaner Urbanna Creek.
“It’s not in our authority to deny a permit,” said Miles. “Middlesex already has a permit. It may not be the best solution, but it is a solution that the law grants.”
Miles indicated a regional or land application disposal would be better. “I encourage everyone in the locality to crunch the numbers again and see if there is one last chance to do things differently” and consider regional approaches to wastewater treatment.
Early in the meeting, Middlesex County Administrator Charles Culley told the SWCB that the county is negotiating with HRSD and is “very much interested in a regional approach.”
Referring to land application, Culley said the “number one site fell through” due to easements on the property. He did not identify the parcel and said HRSD is still looking at potential sites.
Culley noted the proposed treatment plant site was moved from a prominent place in Saluda (next to the sheriff’s office) to 30 remote acres off Route 33. “We’ve been working to make this a better project,” he said .
Ann Jennings, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told the board the proposed Saluda treatment plant will “fail to protect water quality” and is contrary to the Clean Water Act. She said Middlesex County should “explore alternatives.”