EPA makes it official: consent decree ended

This 54-inch diameter pipe was part of Gloucester’s combined sewer overflow project downtown under a federal consent decree which officially ended this week. The pipe, installed in 2014, is the storm drain for the city.

For three decades, Gloucester has been operating under a consent decree put in place in the 1980s to improve coastal environmental quality and rehabilitate aging sewer infrastructure to prevent sewer overflow.

This week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially terminated the decree.

“Our city has to remain focused on what makes us Gloucester; we rely on our coasts, and we can never take that for granted,” said Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken in a prepared statement. “Ending this 30-year-long consent decree, and continuing to work closely with the EPA and (state Department of Environmental Protection), are vital steps in ensuring our community and economy is strong and resilient. This is a major, if not, historic win for our community.”

In 1992, the EPA accused the city of violating the Clean Water Act of 1972 and that it was to halt the flow of polluted water into Gloucester Harbor.

Public Works Director Mike Hale said that, back then, the city was spilling millions and millions of gallons of wastewater into the harbor.

In 2002, the city pledged in a consent decree filed in federal court to improve its sewage treatment plant and stem overflows from its sewer system. That decree was modified twice, but on March 15 a federal judge in Boston terminated the decree in a signal that Gloucester had kept up its end of the deal.

In the beginnings of 2021, Hale wrote to federal and state environmental regulators to request that the decree be terminated and the regulators agreed as the city had completed everything it pledged in the decree through its plan to control the combined sewer overflow into the harbor.

“Gloucester has never been cleaner in recent years,” Hale said. “We can now put the consent decree behind us and we are excited to move to next steps with government agencies, and encouraged that we are on the right path.”

Moving forward, the city will work closely with the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that Gloucester continues to protect and preserve its beaches and ecosystems through sustained investment in its public infrastructure.

The city will continue to focus on implementing climate-focused initiatives to protect and improve the city’s environmental resources.

A statement from the city noted that this will include looking at local, state and federal funding sources to assist the city in taking on these critical infrastructure projects.

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford may be contacted at 978-675-2705, tbradford@gloucestertimes.com or on Twitter at TayBradford97.

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