After three years of negotiations, the city and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have agreed on a new plan for the city’s combined sewer overflow project that is expected to save Gloucester $3 million, officials said Friday.
The modified consent decree, said Public Works Director Mike Hale, uses a schedule the city developed to decrease the number of sewer overflows in less time. That could bring the city savings that could be further invested in fixing other parts of Gloucester’s wastewater infrastructure, he said.
“As we get further down the line, the scope may be reduced because we’ll see the benefit,” Hale said. “That’s where the savings will be for the project.”
Gloucester has borrowed $35 million for the so-called CSO project. Work began in force around 2007, when the city started working on the overflow line near Pavilion Beach and crews, Hale said, separated sewer lines from stormwater lines.
The latest CSO work was carried out around Hancock Street downtown and near Parker Street over the winter.
“Basically, because of the success of the CSO project, what we requested is that we change some requirements to fulfill the same goal and save the city money,” said Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
The EPA filed the modified consent decree in Federal Court in Boston on Thursday. The decree includes a new schedule for CSO repairs, ending in 2015. It also includes required upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Hale said, however, that the city has already done some of the work in the consent decree, including some CSO work and the wastewater treatment improvements. The city started the $20 million upgrade two years ago.
The EPA mandated the overflow project in 1992, saying that the city’s combined sewer overflows violated the Clean Water Act. Work started in force on that project over a decade later, in 2005 when the EPA laid out a schedule for completing the project.
A combined sewer overflow, said Hale, is a release valve that prevents the main sewer line from backing up into people’s homes.
Here, it vented sewage out into the harbor through several outlets. Before the CSO project, stormwater would flow into the sewer line during rain storms and trigger the overflows, and send untreated wastewater into the harbor.
According to the modified consent decree, the EPA has also held off fining the city for the overflows because a fine would have jeopardized Gloucester’s ability to fix the problem.
Hale said the DPW went with the EPA’s plan, but as the project moved forward, officials found that a different approach would work better. The EPA’s plan, Hale said, was a model. As the DPW pulled data together, he said, it’s found a more efficient way to do the work.
Hale said the department targeted an overflow point on Harbor Loop before a few others because that point was more prone to overflows.
“We weren’t looking to save money, but to invest it wisely and see if we could get ahead of these issues,” Hale said.
The modified consent agenda, however, doesn’t have anything to do with the EPA’s secondary treatment requirements. Those mandates, which the city is also challenging, could still cost Gloucester and its taxpayers more than $60 million.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenGDT