City officials say they may face a steep fine if they don't make sewer fixes.

The City of Harrington may be looking at 100,000 reasons to step up its ongoing project to plug leaks in its underground sewer pipes.
City Manager John Schatzschneider said at Monday’s city council meeting that the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control could seek a six-figure fine against the town if measures aren’t taken to control stormwater runoff inside its borders.

“February, in the blizzards, we almost breached our lagoons with the snow and melt-off, and we had to make a determination,” Schatzschneider said. “We called Kent County, asked for advice, and ended up pumping it through our wastewater treatment station. When we did that, we exceeded our discharge limits.”

He said that the city went to DNREC immediately to ask what they could do.

“We called DNREC and told them about it; we weren’t trying to hide anything,” Schatzschneider said. “But we felt it was better to exceed the discharge limit, which put extra chlorine into the water, than to pump untreated water into the stream.”

But a violation is a violation. And according to city officials, the department is asking the city to either pursue some kind of project that will improve stormwater management in Harrington, or face a fine of $100,000 or more.
“Really, no decisions have been made yet,” Schatzschneider said.

The city has already rejected a proposal to build a new “bio-retention” pond that would filter stormwater runoff through layers of sand and soil before allowing it to flow into the ground. It’s a proven design, but the problem is the price tag. Schatzschneider said economic conditions wouldn’t allow the city to spend the money it would take to build one, especially with a $7 million project to join the Harrington and Kent County sewer systems ongoing.

Another option would be to use the push to fix “inflow and infiltration” in the sewer pipes, I&I for short, as a stormwater-management program. Leaky pipes let rainwater seep in during a storm, creating situations similar to the one that happened in February — the city ends up pumping more water than usual out of the system because stormwater gets mixed in with the sewage.

So far the city has surveyed a quarter of its pipes for leaks that could cause I&I. Schatzschneider said he was told that if the city does get hit with a fine, it would cost about as much as testing the other three-quarters.

“If we have to spend that kind of money, I hope we do a study, because then we’ll know all the P’s and Q’s about our I&I problem,” he said.

The city had stuck with testing just one area of the sewer because testing can be costly, and preliminary work showed most of the I&I happening in the southeast section of town.

Even if they do the study, fixing pipes isn’t cheap. City Engineer Chris Fazio said on Oct. 18 that fixing the pipes in just that quarter of Harrington could cost $400,000 or more.

DNREC public affairs officer Michael Globetti said the division has not levied any fine against Harrington yet, and declined to comment on any pending fines or penalties.