Blue Water Baltimore has petitioned a federal judge to get involved in a 2002 lawsuit that the federal and state government brought against the city.
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Initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment, the lawsuit was resolved with a consent decree that Baltimore would repair its failing sewer system by 2016.
“The media recently reported that the City is attempting to renegotiate its 2016 deadline,” wrote Halle Van der Gaag, Blue Water’s executive director in a statement, “and so we are seeking to intervene in the case and give citizens a voice in the revision process and to formally request that all parties do more to stop sewer spills and protect public health.”
Department of Public Works spokesman Jeffrey Raymond declined to comment on Blue Water’s action or the deadline for repairing the sewer system. DPW released the following statement:
“The Baltimore City Department of Public Works is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the 2002 Consent Decree. We have met every requirement and deadline under this process. A revision of the Consent Decree is not yet before the court, and we consider the intervention referenced [on July 31] to be premature.”
Tina Meyers, who as Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper is a representative of Blue Water, clarified that if granted participation in the lawsuit, the organization would not necessarily focus on the deadline, which could be pushed out to “2019 and beyond,” according to press release from Blue Water.
“Currently, the city and the EPA are only discussing deadlines,” she said, adding that addressing public health issues and sewage spills are Blue Water’s priorities.
“We don’t really have an opinion on the deadline extension at this point,” she said. “We just more want to make sure that some of these issues get addressed.”
According to literature disseminated by Blue Water, the city reported that more than 7 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into Baltimore’s streams and harbor between 2010 and 2012. Blue Water says that number is low, and purports that the city does not include sewage spills from stormwater outfalls or two sewage overflow systems in its reporting.
Blue Water has also identified six “citizen priorities” that it says should be included in the consent decree. One of those is better signage and public information regarding sewage leaks, spills and overflows. In one area of Falls Road near the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, Meyers said, there have been puddles of raw sewage that joggers “are literally running through, because they think it’s just stormwater.”
At Stony Run, she added, there is a stormwater overflow system that gets contaminated with sewage, and it is a popular place for dogs to swim.
One of the hotspots, Meyers said, is the stormwater outfall in Canton, where Linwood Ave. meets the harbor.
“That’s actually a huge contaminated stormwater outfall,” she said.
Meyers said that Blue Water Baltimore should be involved in the lawsuit because the organization has “a lot of on-the-ground experience.”
“We want to make sure that what they’re doing on paper matches up with what [the city is] doing in the neighborhoods,” she said.
Meyers said that her organization represents citizen interests.
“We are responding constantly to reports from citizens,” she said. “Consistently what we hear are requests for signage and notification of sewage spills.”
by Erik Zygmont