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Wastewater treatment: Watchdog plans suit vs. Missoula

Wastewater treatment: Watchdog plans suit vs. Missoula

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A national government watchdog group has informed the city of Missoula that it will be sued for violating the federal Clean Water Act and endangering the health of residents through the operation of its wastewater treatment plant.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility notified the city last week that it would file suit at the end of April. Eric Wingerter, PEER's national field director in Washington, D.C., said by law, groups intending on suing public agencies must give 60 days notice before filing a lawsuit.

"Basically, you have to give a warning to the agency you are suing," Wingerter said in a telephone interview.

Wingerter said PEER decided to sue the city of Missoula after officials ignored a report the environmental group released last fall that accused the managers of the wastewater treatment plan of "gross negligence" for frequent spills and bypasses that pollute the Clark Fork River and the city's drinking-water aquifer. The report was written anonymously by former and current treatment plant employees.

"We were hoping to work with them on this," Wingerter said. "We were hoping we wouldn't have to do this in the public forum. But the mayor's office has ignored the report."

In a press release announcing its intention to sue, PEER alleges that the Missoula Wastewater Treatment Plant illegally releases partially treated sewage into the river, neglects to maintain sewage treatment systems and fails to report large violations to the state Department of Environmental Quality. The allegations also were cited in the report, "Fouling Our Nest."

When the report was released, Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas and Peter Nielsen, the environmental health supervisor at the City-County Health Department, questioned its accuracy.

"In general, though, from what I've seen here, there is nothing that qualifies as gross negligence," Kadas said. "That is a very powerful term. If you look at the performance of this plant over the past seven or eight years, it is one of the best performing in the state. I am concerned that this report gets folks riled up in a way that is not accurate or justified."

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