The Pulse

Siler City wastewater treatment plant racks up more fines, files for Special Order by Consent

By: - September 13, 2022 1:56 pm
An aerial view of the Siler City wastewater treatment plant (Photo: Town of Siler City)
An aerial view of the Siler City wastewater treatment plant (Photo: Town of Siler City)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has fined the Siler City wastewater treatment plant another $36,000 related to Clean Water Act violations the facility incurred in March, according to state documents, bringing the total to $154,000 in penalties over the past two years.

As Policy Watch reported last month, the town’s wastewater treatment plant is overwhelmed by discharge from the Mountaire poultry processing facility. The slaughterhouse sends extremely high amounts of nitrogen and ammonia to the plant, which then discharges into Loves Creek, a tributary of the Rocky River. Portions of those waterways are on the federal impaired list; aquatic biologists have also spotted sick and dying fish just downstream of the wastewater treatment plant.

Siler City is responsible for regulating its industrial dischargers, like Mountaire. DEQ issues discharge permits to, and regulates, wastewater treatment plants.

The recent fine stems from eight separate violations, including exceedances of Total Nitrogen as much as 129%. Total Suspended Solids — the quantity of particles in water that are large enough to be trapped by a filter — were over the regulatory standard by 312%. DEQ assessed the town $10,000 for failing in its “duty to mitigate.”

Since the March incidents, the wastewater treatment plant has also amassed four more violations, according to the EPA. These include Total Nitrogen levels at 207% above the limit and cadmium concentrations at 43% higher than legally allowed.

According to state documents, DEQ does not believe Siler City is violating the law “willfully or intentionally.” However, “there is ample evidence that negligence has occurred across multiple program areas,” DEQ wrote.

Last week, on the same day that Wolfspeed announced it would build a new silicon carbide factory in Siler City, bringing with it 1,800 new jobs, the town applied with DEQ for a Special Order by Consent,  also known as an SOC, according to an agency spokesperson. The planned Chatham County-Siler City megasite will also strain the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant unless it is upgraded.

Policy Watch requested the application, but DEQ has yet to provide it.

An SOC is a legal agreement between the state and a facility that can’t consistently comply with the terms, conditions, or limitations in its permit. However, SOCs can only be issued if the non-compliance is because of plant design or infrastructure. Siler City plans to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant by early 2025, although those improvements are already 18 months behind schedule.

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.