The Sanitary District of Highland, Indiana, and the Town of Griffith, Indiana, have agreed to construction projects and capital investments that will eliminate discharges of untreated sewage from their sewer systems into nearby water bodies, including the Little Calumet River.
In two separate consent decrees, Highland and Griffith have each agreed to implement plans that will significantly increase the amount of wastewater they send to the neighboring town of Hammond for treatment and eliminate points in their sewer systems that overflow when their systems become overloaded. Together, the towns will spend about $100 million to improve their sewer systems. In addition, Highland will pay a civil penalty of $175,000 and Griffith will pay a civil penalty of $33,000.
The two consent decrees would resolve the violations alleged in the underlying complaint filed by the United States and the state of Indiana. The complaint alleges that Highland’s sanitary sewage collection system overflowed on 257 days since 2012, resulting in discharges of untreated sewage into the Little Calumet River or a tributary to the river. The complaint also alleges that Griffith discharged sewage into a wetland adjacent to the Little Calumet River on 16 days since 2013. Finally, the complaint alleges that both Highland and Griffith failed to comply with previous orders by EPA to stop these illegal discharges. The defendants were joined in the same cause of action because the claims against Highland and Griffith are similar in nature and both communities rely on the Sanitary District of Hammond to treat all of their wastewater.
“Cities and towns must invest in adequate infrastructure to protect the integrity of our nation’s waters,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “These settlements require meaningful investments that will improve the health of the Little Calumet River and surrounding areas.”
“Highland and Griffith are part of an area of northwest Indiana historically overburdened by pollution,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “These infrastructure improvements will prevent untreated sewage from entering the region’s waterbodies, thereby improving water quality as well as the quality of life for the people who live here.
“These consent decrees are an excellent example of how communities can work together to provide a cleaner healthier environment for the citizens of Northwest Indiana to use and enjoy.” said Commissioner Brian Rockensuess of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Under the proposed consent decrees, Highland and Griffith will also implement plans that will improve operations and maintenance of their sewer system and ability to address and respond to any unforeseen sanitary sewer overflows in the future. Highland and Griffith will submit semi-annual progress reports to the United States and the state until all work has been completed and all of the reports and deliverables required will be available to the public on their municipal websites.
The implementation of these consent decrees will prevent hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage carrying harmful pollutants, such as E. coli, from being discharged to the Little Calumet River. These reductions in pollutants will improve water quality in the Little Calumet River.
The proposed agreements are subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval after publication in the Federal Register.