Credit: (John Hurdle)
Lawyers say the trees died as a result of repeated flooding from sewage treatment plants in Hamanton.

A dispute over alleged sewage spills in Hamanton remains unresolved more than three years after owners of a nearby golf course sued a city in the Atlantic County, claiming their property was repeatedly flooded due to overflows.

Rocco and Gloria Jean Calasurda say millions of gallons of purified water from the plant have spilled onto their golf course and surrounding lands as a result of a series of overflows since 2014. They say the floods violate state and federal environmental laws and regulations, but have failed to encourage enforcement by any authorities.

They argue that an infiltration facility where treated sanitary wastewater is absorbed into the ground does not always have the ability to process large volumes of treated water, especially during heavy rains. This floods some sections of their currents, killing trees in rich soil, and threatens water quality in the Pinelands Creek.

Knock out a can on the road?

Despite an amendment to a complaint filed in federal court last December, Kalasurda says they have no scheduled hearing date and they remain subject to future flooding. They say the State Department of the Environment has not responded to their requests for compliance with its wastewater regulations, and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has moved to the Department of the Environment.

“There is damage to my client’s property as well as damage to the natural environment that affects clean water in the region,” said Michael Turner, a spokesman for Colasurdos, during a field trip this week. “It needs to stop. They either need to renovate the station or stop taking so much sewage. “

Behind the perimeter fence on one side of the infiltration site there are dozens of dead trees that, according to Turner, have been killed as a result of repeated floods. A dirt road at this location was built above the bottom of the fence, apparently to prevent it from flooding.

“They treat more and prescribe more than their permission allows,” Turner said.

Brian Howell, a Hammonton attorney, declined to comment because the case is on trial.

Colasurdo’s lawsuit, first filed in February 2019, shows six cases since 2014, when there was an overflow from an infiltration facility, a land application facility on Boer Avenue. In all, the floods poured millions of gallons of water on Frog Rock Golf Club and the Country Club and surrounding forests that are part of the town of Malika, the complaint said.

The lawsuit also alleges that between November 2018 and January 2019, Hamantan dumped approximately 10 million gallons of treated wastewater and / or groundwater from a pipe connected to a local pumping station.

And they say that the overflows formed ponds on private lands, which flowed into the woods. “These sewage reservoirs were covered with discarded car tires, were not sheathed and were not monitored,” the complaint said.

The last spill occurred in February this year, Turner said.

Robert Chimchirian, an expert witness for Colasurdos, said in a report that the developers of the infiltration plant had 40 times overestimated the rate at which water would flow out of it, and that its work did not meet the permit requirements set by the DEP and the Pinelands Commission. He said Hamantan should reduce the amount of wastewater he sends to the plant and periodically allow drip irrigation zones to dry.

Sewage on the go

Possible solutions include building a new treatment plant that will meet permitted standards, or transporting excess wastewater to another treatment plant, Chimchiran said.

Anthony DeChica, head of the city’s utilities, admitted in August that the treatment plant was pumping more purified water into the infiltration facility than it could sometimes absorb.

DeCicco agreed that the plant received a permitted volume of up to 1.6 million gallons of purified water per day, but was capable of processing only about 600,000 gallons of it, according to a transcript of deposition.

“If the plot handled only 600,000 gallons a day, and you had a consumption of 1 million to 1.6 million gallons a day or so, the rest had to go somewhere, right?” The lawyer asked Dekik. “Yes,” he replied.

DeChica also admitted that the spill hit the Hamantan Creek, a tributary of the Malik River, one of the main waterways of the Pinelands.

By allowing the spill, Hamantan violated federal clean water law and the New Jersey Environmental Rights Act and the Water Protection Act, the lawsuit said. He also claims that the discharges violate the city permit in accordance with the state system of elimination of pollution emissions.

“They treat more and prescribe more than their permission allows,” Turner said. “So we want them to stop. And then we go to the authorities, who allegedly protect the environment, but they do nothing, and we do not understand why.

Turner said the lawsuit asks the court to force the DEP and EPA to act if they refuse.

The Department of Health, which issues the discharge permit, declined to comment.

Criticism of DEP

For its part, the EPA said in a letter to Colasurdo’s lawyers that it would not intervene because the DEP determined that the interference was not justified.

“We have strong laws, and they look the other way.”

“Based on the findings of the state, the EPA has determined that it will not take independent law enforcement action and will not interfere in the lawsuit of citizens,” – said the federal agency.

Jeff Titel, former director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the excess flow to the infiltration plant probably reflects the sewer connection from the new building around Hamanton. He added that spilled pollutants, such as the wand and nutrients, threaten to contaminate the huge Kirkwood-Cohansi aquifer that underlies the Pinelands. The fine sandy soils in the area are not conducive to pollution filtration, he said.

He accused the DEP of failing to comply with the Water Pollution Control Act, which gives the agency the power to revoke, change or deny permits to those who violate clean water regulations.

“We have strong laws and they look the other way,” Titel said.

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