By Stuart R. Wahlin
Fishing just isn’t what it used to be in the Rock River behind the hydroelectric power station in Rockton, says local angler Robert Fay, and now he thinks he knows why.
July 15, Fay and his son went fishing behind the powerhouse, where they noticed a flashing red light at the nearby municipal sewage treatment facility.
“My son asked, ‘Dad, what’s that red light flashing for?’” Fay recalled. “I replied: ‘That means it’s red-hot fishing today. We had better get down by the water and start fishing.’”
The Fays weren’t the only ones to notice the flashing red light, however. Budd Andrews, a hydroelectric plant operator who was making his evening check, explained the light indicated something was not running at the sewage lift station operated by the village. Andrews then made his way to the river to see if anything was being expelled from the sewage plant.
“No surprise,” he said. “It was.”
Andrews then began gathering others in the area to serve as witnesses, and photographs were taken of the materials flowing from the pipe into the river. The Fays were among those witnesses.
“When I walked over, Budd said, ‘Look at that,’” Fay explained, referring to a pipe coming from the municipal sewage facility. “There was raw sewage coming out of a pipe and going directly into the river. The smell of methane gas was overwhelming.
“My son asked, ‘What is that, Dad?’” Fay added. “I said, ‘It’s poop going into the water.’ He was shocked that anyone would do that, and I guess I was also. No wonder fishing hasn’t been what it once was.”
Andrews said he contacted the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), which visited the site the following day.“Chuck Corley [acting manager of the IEPA’s Rockford field office] came out and talked to the village workers,” Andrews reported. “When he was done with them, he came to talk with me, and I told him that I had pictures and witnesses. Then, [Village President] Dale Adams rode up on his scooter and said, ‘See, Chuck, I told you there was no spill.’
“I said, ‘Dale, I have pictures of it,’” Andrews continued. “He said, ‘Good luck with your pictures,’ and rode off. I told Chuck, ‘See, that’s what I deal with with him.’”
Adams denied assertions by witnesses that sewage had been discharged into the river. He confirmed a pump at the treatment plant had stopped, but asserted that it had been corrected before the alleged discharge could occur.
“We got there and looked at it. I didn’t see anything. The public works guys didn’t see anything, and the EPA didn’t see anything, so I think it’s just wishful thinking on Budd Andrews’ part,” Adams responded. “We got called out—that there was a pump stoppage—and we went down there, and we reset everything before there was a leakage. The EPA came out. Chuck Corley came out and said he didn’t see any evidence of a leakage. So, I don’t know. Supposedly, there’s pictures going around. I haven’t seen ’em.
“It’s kind of an unusual circumstance, because we had the overflow capped,” he explained. “Had we not had that done, there probably would have been a leakage. The river was so high, it was actually back-flowing into our lift station. …The river came up and it was coming back into our lift station, so the guys went in and put a cap on the overflow to prevent river water from coming back into the lift station. So, essentially, there was no way there could have been any outflow anyway, because the outflow was capped.”
Adams added: “As far as I’m concerned, there was no leakage. If the EPA says there was no leakage, then there was no leakage.”
The IEPA has not made an official determination yet, however. Spokesman Maggie Carson confirmed the agency investigated the incident, and that enforcement options are now being considered.
“When [Corley] went out to visit, I think the incident had passed, but he went on to do an investigation,” Carson reported. “Any discharge into the waters of the state has to be done under a permit which sets specific limits.”
She explained: “Typically, a treatment plant will have a permit, but discharging raw sewage would definitely not be acceptable under any circumstance. The permit is so when they treat it, they can make sure they treat it adequately to protect the waterway.”
Carson indicated the alleged discharge appears to have been a “one-time incident,” but that the matter is being taken seriously.
“The discharge has stopped, which is, of course, critical,” she said. “Sometimes we have to take action to stop it. But in this case, it already stopped, so that’s certainly helpful to us. But the next step is to complete the investigation, which means assessing any violations that might have occurred. Our response to that would be a violation notice, or some sort of letter of inquiry, but we will look at the alleged violations and determine what enforcement is appropriate.”
Carson anticipates the investigation will be completed within the next two weeks.
On the same day as the visit from Corley, Andrews said, Public Works Manager Gordon Nygren and Trustee Scott Fridly arrived on the scene. Neither responded to requests for comment.
“They walked down to look at the pipe,” Andrews noted. “On their way out, I asked them if they would like to see the pictures. They both said ‘no.’”
From the Aug. 11-17, 2010 issue