The tension between the Missoula Wastewater Treatment Plant and an environmental watchdog group keeps swirling around and around and…well, you get the picture.
Nine months after Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) threw down the gauntlet with a report that alleged multiple violations at the plant, and two months after an independent review committee recommended a number of procedural changes there, PEER has done what it threatened to do since the outset and on Monday named the city as defendant in a lawsuit on the matter. “Our discussions with the city have gone from bad to worse,” said Kevin Keenan, a Helena-based representative of the Washington, D.C.-based group, “and we now feel that we need the framework of the court to resolve the issue.”
PEER’s original “white paper,” issued in October and written in part by current and former employees of the plant, alleged falsified discharge reports, system failures and groundwater contamination, among other charges. But the problems at the plant go back much further than a year, according to Keenan, who served as a permit compliance officer with the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) when the DEQ sued the plant in 1987. The particulars of that case, which was settled out of court, have yet to be resolved, according to Keenan. “The terms of that settlement have not been met,” said Keenan, listing the lack of timely discharge reports and insufficient chlorine and fecal coliform monitoring as examples of continued malfeasance on the part of the plant.
The current lawsuit is four-pronged in its goals, said Keenan. PEER seeks: 1) a court finding that the plant has violated the law; 2) a court order that directs operation of the plant to prevent further violation; 3) a mandate allowing PEER to randomly sample discharge at the plant at the city’s expense; and 4) an order that requires all discharge reports from the plant to be sent directly to PEER.
“If our allegations are correct, we feel that it’s legitimate to include ourselves directly in the process,” Keenan said of the latter two goals of the lawsuit. The suit also calls for penalties of up to $27,500 per day per violation—the maximum allowed under the federal Clean Water Act—and a reimbursement of PEER’s legal fees.
“The city has maintained a ‘We haven’t done anything wrong’ stance throughout the process,” said Keenan, “and I don’t know how you negotiate with that position.”
A spokesperson for the city attorney’s office said that as of Tuesday, the complaint had not yet reach by their office.