Environmental Alert – Portsmouth Sewer Rates

As reported on Page 1 of the May 17, 2012 edition of the Portsmouth Herald, the City of Portsmouth expects EPA to issue a draft Discharge Permit for the City’s Peirce Island Waste Water Treatment Plant by the end of May. This event is of critical legal and financial importance to users of the Portsmouth sewer system because new stringent limits expected to be contained in the draft Permit, if ultimately finalized by EPA, will impose enormous costs on the City in order to upgrade its sewage treatment plant.  Those costs, in turn, will be passed along to businesses and other residents through significantly increased sewer rates.  It is estimated that depending upon the precise terms of the final Permit that Portsmouth receives from EPA, sewer rates will increase between 26% and 128%.  The Herald reports that Portsmouth, along with Exeter, Newmarket, Rochester and Dover, in the aggregate, could be required to spend up to $1 billion in capital costs to bring their sewage treatment plants into compliance with new permits.

There is an opportunity for businesses to get involved and present their concerns to EPA.  Issuance of a draft permit by EPA triggers a public comment period. This is a formal legal process mandated by the federal Clean Water Act, and is the only opportunity for considered, well-articulated and legally supported participation by affected parties. The duration of this comment period will be set out in the draft permit, but is unlikely to extend for a long period of time.

During the public comment period all issues that anyone opposing or supporting the draft permit would like to raise must be submitted to the EPA. An interested party cannot simply wait to see what a final permit looks like and only then to decide to raise concerns. If issues or concerns are not articulated during this window of opportunity, with very limited exceptions, those issues will not be considered by EPA prior to issuing a final permit, and will not be considered as part of any later appeal. Both written and oral comments may be submitted, but the more detailed, specific, scientifically, financially and legally supported the comments are, the more chance those comments have of being taken account of by EPA in the final permit. This part of the legal process is the one clear opportunity most will have to affect the final outcome, and it is an opportunity that cannot be taken lightly.

Any sewer system ratepayer with an interest in learning more about this topic may contact Michael Quinn at the McLane Law Firm’s Portsmouth office by phone at 603-334-6925, or by email at mike.quinn@mclane.com.