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Scott Vows To Work With Regulators After Maryland Takes Over Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Mayor Brandon Scott on Monday vowed that Baltimore City would help get things under control at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant after the state took over operations at the city-owned and operated facility.

The mayor's commitment comes a day after Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles directed the Maryland Environmental Service to take over operations of the facility in response to pollution and other compliance issues at the wastewater treatment plant, the largest of its kind in the state.

In a statement, Scott pointed out that issues troubling the Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants existed long before he took office, but the mayor said his administration will help regulators bring both facilities "into compliance."

"This will not be an overnight fix," the mayor said, "but we must work collaboratively and combine our resources in order to ensure clean and healthy communities not just for our residents, but also for the wildlife that calls the Chesapeake Bay home."

Under Grumble's directive, MES is tasked with doing everything in its power to make sure that the city complies with the requirements of the facility's discharge permit and halts all "illegal discharges" from the Back River wastewater treatment plant.

Regulators "determined that the decline in the proper maintenance and operation of the Plant risks catastrophic failures at the Plant that may result in environmental harm as well as adverse public health and comfort effects," the directive says.

The order was handed down Sunday after the state found that Baltimore City did not follow an order issued last Thursday calling for the city to "immediately end all illegal discharges of water pollution at the plant and demonstrate that it has come into compliance with all Clean Water Act permit conditions."

The state Department of the Environment issued the March 24 order two days after an inspection "revealed the precipitous decline of the functioning of several critical processes at the Plant in comparison with prior inspections." The state said a follow-up inspection found the issues were not addressed within a 48-hour deadline.

The Back River and Patapsco plants, both of which are owned and run by Baltimore City, have come under fire from the state for unauthorized discharges of pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, releases that the state says undermine efforts to restore the Bay and other natural resources.

In January, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh sued the city on behalf of MDE in response to "repeated violations" found during multiple inspections. The suit calls for the court to fine the city $10,000 a day for each permit violation and to issue an order requiring the city to do everything in its power to halt the facilities' pollution.

Grumbles said he spoke with Scott on Friday about the status of both plants and the pair discussed the need to "improve management to prevent pollution and protect environmental health."

"The ongoing and escalating problems at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant present an unacceptable threat to the environment and public health," Grumbles said. "I am taking additional, necessary and immediate action by directing the Maryland Environment Service to take charge of operations at the plant."

Among other things, MES is tasked with evaluating the plant's operation, maintenance, staffing and equipment and compiling its findings  into a report by June 6.

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