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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The Bethel Heights Lincoln Street Waste Water Treatment Plant is visible Thursday, June 13, 2019, from the Lawrence Bowen property in Bethel Heights. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is ordering Bethel Heights to pump and truck off waste seven day a week.

The state ordered Bethel Heights this week to remove wastewater by truck from its treatment plants seven days a week, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality told Mayor Cynthia Black in a letter this week.

Two days later, the city submitted a plan for cleaning and repairing its plants saying it would haul waste two days a week. The city also said it would haul 2,000 gallons less a week than the state ordered.

Bethel Heights

2019 Timeline

• Feb. 12: ADEQ review of 2017 and 2018 monthly reports from the city shows 30 instances of sewage pooling on the surface and multiple violations of the permit’s requirements for sampling, monitoring and reporting data.

• March 21: ADEQ tells city a Feb. 12 inspection found pooling in several fields and flowing liquid. Equipment was leaking directly on to the field. Inspection also found evidence of runoff from the site. Plant operator says problems have been ongoing since January.

• May 6: ADEQ gives city 90 days to submit a plan for correcting permit violations.

• June 4: ADEQ asks Springdale Water Utilities to refuse water service for new customers in Bethel Heights.

• July 24: ADEQ gives city two days to develop an interim plan after July 16 tests showed fecal coliform levels higher than the laboratory tests typically used to monitor wastewater could measure.

• July 26: ADEQ deadline for interim plan and a plan for communicating wastewater testing results with residents.

• Aug. 1: Benton County prosecutor threatens criminal charges if problems not solved in 30 days.

• Aug. 6: ADEQ orders city to remove 25 percent of the wastewater plants via trucks to a licensed facility.

• Aug. 8: Bethel Heights submits to ADEQ corrective plan requested May 6.

• Aug. 9: Deadline for corrective plan.

• Aug. 27: Prosecutor’s deadline for compliance.

Source: Staff Report

Donnally Davis, a spokeswoman for Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, said officials are reviewing the city's plan, including the discrepancies.

Bethel Heights' two wastewater treatment plants operated for at least five years out of compliance with its permits, according to records from the state. Violations have included wastewater pooling on the surface, treated water released with levels of contaminates much higher than the city's permits allow and failing to report levels of contaminates to the state.

Environmental Quality on Tuesday told Bethel Heights it must haul away 25% of its daily 80,000 gallons of wastewater -- or no less than 20,000 gallons a day -- until wastewater stops surfacing on all of the treatment plants' drip fields. The letter also directed city officials to present receipts and other documents related to the waste hauling.

The city on Thursday submitted a plan to the state detailing how it intends to correct problems at its treatment plants. The state gave Bethel Heights 90 days after a May 6 letter to submit a cleanup plan.

Tests of wastewater in February revealed the plant was releasing more contaminants than state permits allowed.

The city's proposal shows a completion date in May 2022 to complete fixing the problems.

NEW PLAN

The Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority, a regional treatment facility, can and will accept Bethel Heights' waste, said Mike Neil, manager of the authority's plant in Bentonville.

Bethel Heights' plan notes the city signed a contract July 29 for six months of disposal at the authority's plant. Neil said the plant received four or five shipments from Bethel Heights since the contract was signed.

However, the regional plant isn't open for collection on weekends.

Options include hauling the waste to treatment plants operated by Northwest Arkansas four largest cities or out of state. Or the private hauler hired by the city can store the wastewater in trucks over the weekend for disposal Monday.

A truck might carry 3,500 to 4,500 gallons, depending on the size of truck, Neil said. Under the state's orders, Bethel Heights would fill and releases about five trucks of wastewater a day.

In the meantime, the city's immediate plan lists repairs needed on multiple instruments and systems found lacking at the treatment plants.

Earthplan Design Alternatives in Springdale, a landscape engineering firm, prepared the two-year correction plan for the city. One section of the plan includes malfunctions in the plant. In some cases, documents pertaining to the operation of the treatment plant since its opening in 2003 couldn't be found.

The report lists causes of the plant's poor operation including soil condition, damage caused by farm equipment and confusing permit levels from the Environment Quality and the Department of Health.

"It sounds like more of the same," Joe Brooks, whose family owns land adjacent to the treatment plant, said of the correction plan.

The plants were found out of compliance in 2013, 2015 and 2017. The oversight agency asked the city for corrective plans in each case. The city was found out of compliance again in 2018.

TESTS CONTINUE

The latest directives from the state come after a report showing the level of fecal coliform and E. coli still high in the standing wastewater at all parts of the plants the week of July 31.

The city sent the report to the state Aug. 2. The Geotechnical and Testing Services in Fayetteville tested the water and submitted the report on behalf of the city.

The state also required the city to continue to submit weekly test results and photographs of the treatment plants' fields and to continue notifying residents of the test results, which officials chose to do on the city's website.

"So they finally agreed to do what we asked for in May, that they start pumping the wastewater out of the plant?" Brooks said. "How bad would this have been if it wasn't the driest months of summer? And we've still got water all over the fields."

The city's wastewater system consists of a septic tank-pumped sewage collection system -- also known as a STEP system. Wastewater is collected from the sewage system and sent to one of two treatment facilities.

Large solids and wastes are removed, and the treated water runs through a series of pipes just below the ground on several acres. The treated water is slowly dripped to release it into soil just below the surface.

The final treatment of the wastewater depends on natural aerobic and bacterial activity of the soil, rather than being discharged or released directly into a lake, stream or river.

Bethel Heights' Lincoln Street plant is on 11 acres. The North Oak Street plant is on 10. The acreage is divided into zones, and a controller alternates a slow dispersal of the treated wastewater into zones to prevent the water from pooling above the ground or onto adjacent land before treatment is complete.

The state collected samples around the city's wastewater treatment plants July 16 showing fecal coliform levels higher than the laboratory tests typically used to monitor wastewater could measure. The department sent the city a letter July 24 giving officials two days to come up with an interim plan to get its sewer problems under control.

The state asked Springdale Water Utilities in early June to refuse water service for new customers in Bethel Heights. Springdale supplies water to the neighboring town.

Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith last week threatened criminal charges against city officials if they don't comply with the state and fix its wastewater treatment system.

A check of the city's website Thursday showed the test results under a tab labeled "Notice to Public," along with a notice treated sewer water does lay on the ground in some places. The message advises residents to stay off the fields.

The home page of the site continues to display the mayor's denials the problem exists. This was posted July 26 after Environmental Quality ordered the city to inform residents of the high concentrations of contaminants in its fields.

SMALL VS. BIG

Brooks and other residents living near some of the treatment fields have started petition drives to consolidate the smaller town into Springdale, allowing Springdale to take over wastewater treatment. Bethel Heights has about 3,000 residents.

Leaving one city for another will require petitions filed in favor of the change in both cities. Each of the two cities' petitions must have signatures of at least 15% of the number of voters in the last mayoral election. Then voters in each of the towns would have to approve the change. A simple majority vote in each city would pass the measures.

"The city is resisting annexation efforts of any property into Springdale.," Black said Thursday through Robert Rhoads, an attorney representing the city. "Bethel Heights has always and will continue to endeavor to serve its citizens and will constantly strive to improve its services. We believe there is a place for smaller cities to exist next to larger ones as many residents desire a small town life."

Brooks and several other families allege the city releases untreated water onto their land and into their ponds.

Bethel Heights released a statement on its website July 27 denying allegations the city operates its wastewater treatment plant outside of its permitted limits. It attributes test results showing high fecal levels to the livestock operations on private land adjacent to the treatment plant.

NW News on 08/10/2019

Print Headline: Bethel Heights to begin trucking wastewater away

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