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story.lead_photo.caption File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The Bethel Heights Lincoln Street Waste Water Treatment Plant is visible June 13 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.

Bethel Heights faces $122,000 in fines for violations of its wastewater treatment plants, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality told the city Friday.

Two of the violations -- at $26,400 each -- claim the city provided false statements in its required reporting to the state, according to the Environmental Quality notice.

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 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 waste water could measure.

• 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 city’s waste water via trucks to a licensed facility.

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

• Aug. 16: ADEQ sends city a notice of violations with civil fines attached to each.

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

Source: Staff Report

The city failed to report violations of its permit in a three-month report covering May, June and July, the notice reads. The city's monthly reports submitted to the state showed no violations of the plants' permit limits, which contradicts the three-month report the city also filed.

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Bethel Heights Violation

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Other fines listed by the state include: $11,000 for wastewater pooling on the ground; $8,800 for wastewater runoff of the treatment fields; $6,600 for three incidents of releasing more fecal coliform and biological solids than the plant's permit allows; and $13,200 for failing to stay in compliance with the permit.

In addition, the city was levied three, $10,000 fines for violations of the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act.

The state noted the city's treatment fields ultimately channel water into Puppy Creek to Spring Creek to the Illinois River.

City officials may appeal the department's findings by submitting a request for a hearing over the next 20 days. The public also will have 30 days to comment, starting Aug. 25. Payment of the fines is due in 30 days if the city does not appeal.

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Letter of Violation for Bethel Heights

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Environmental Quality fined the city $6,400 in 2015 for permit violations, but reduced that to $4,160 at the city's request, according to state records.

Neither Bethel Heights officials nor an attorney retained by the city returned requests for comment Friday evening.

Bethel Heights' two wastewater plants have operated for at least five years out of compliance with their permits, according to records from the state.

The state on Aug. 6 ordered Bethel Heights to remove wastewater by truck from its treatment plants daily. The state ordered the city to remove 25% of its daily 80,000 gallons of wastewater -- or no less than 20,000 gallons a day -- until wastewater stops surfacing on the treatment plants' drip fields.

The city's wastewater system consists of a septic tank, pumped sewage collection system -- also known as a STEP system. Wastewater is collected at individual residences in septic tanks and pumped to the city's treatment plants. The systems distribute treated water into fields by drip irrigation.

The city has delivered three trucks a day, totaling about 10,000 gallons of wastewater per day to the Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority's wastewater plant in south Bentonville, Mike Neil said Thursday. Neil, the plant manager, said the deliveries have been ongoing since the city signed a contract with the authority July 29.

The regional treatment facility collects waste via drainage systems from south Bentonville, Tontitown and Elm Springs. Bethel Heights is the only city from which the facility will accept wastewater via truck, Neil said.

"We're doing it as a favor to Bethel Heights while they get back on their feet," he said. "And we want to make sure it's done correctly."

The contract with the conservation authority was part of Bethel Heights' plan for cleaning and repairing its plants submitted to the state Aug. 8. The state ordered the plan May 6 in response to a February inspection finding numerous permit violations.

Environmental Quality gave the city 90 days to submit a plan for correcting the violations. The agency called the correction plan submitted by the city "inadequate" in its Friday notice. The state said the plan didn't include all of the required elements.

The city's proposal shows a completion date in May 2022 to fix its problems.

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

The state collected samples around the city's wastewater treatment plants July 16 that showed 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 on Aug. 1 threatened criminal charges against city officials if they don't comply with the state and fix the treatment system.

Bethel Heights released a statement on its website July 26 denying allegations the city operates its plant outside of its permitted limits. The statement was posted after Environmental Quality ordered the city to inform residents of the high concentrations of contaminants in its fields.

Joe Brooks, members of the Charlotte Steele family and members of the Lawrence Bowen family allege the city releases untreated water onto their land and into their ponds, which lie on land adjacent to a treatment plant.

They have started petition drives to consolidate the smaller town into Springdale, allowing Springdale Water Utilities to take over wastewater treatment. Bethel Heights has about 3,000 residents.

Leaving one city for another requires petitions filed in favor of the change in both cities. Each of the 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.

NW News on 08/17/2019

Print Headline: Bethel Heights faces over $100,000 in fines

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