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DEP demands more sewer monitoring, employees in Montague

MONTAGUE — Town officials are bristling at the results of the latest sewer system inspection by the Department of Environmental Protection, whose findings could oblige the town to hire up to four more employees and upgrade the pump station alarm systems.

“I did make the point to the DEP this is basically a case of no good deed goes unpunished,” said Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio.

Selectmen worried about the impact of increased sewer costs on local industry.

Abbondanzio said the DEP representative was unreceptive to the arguments that the sewage plant is experimenting with systems above and beyond the requirements, which could serve as models for other plants, or that under the current system they have never had a permit violation.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Robert Trombley said of the DEP’s eight findings two are significant: the sewage plant is understaffed by their standards and inspections are not frequent enough.

Trombley said under DEP regulations his department should inspect the outlying pump stations every day, but only does so three times a week. Trombley said the DEP has been aware of this for years but never brought it up until this year. When asked why now an official said the department was doing this everywhere, Trombley said.

Trombley said the full inspection takes two hours with two people, and 12 paid hours of inspections per week would jump to 28 with daily inspections. A new employee, at a cost of approximately $45,000 to $50,000 a year would be required just to address this, unless the DEP agrees to a lesser inspection standard in exchange for an upgrade to the pump station alarm system, an unknown one-time expenditure plus maintenance costs.

The existing system notifies sewage workers of problems, but doesn’t specify what is wrong, he said. A more advanced system would provide more information and allow workers to react more quickly.

The staffing issue comes down to a formula, based on which the DEP calculates the plant requires 11 full-time employees. Trombley said he has calculated 10.3 through the same formula, but currently has seven.

The town has 30 days from last Tuesday to respond to the DEP’s letter with their intentions, Trombley told the Board of Selectmen, and the solution will likely come down to a negotiated compromise.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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