Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter D. Lopez, Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), announced today that the federal District Court has ordered the City of Mount Vernon, New York (“Mount Vernon”), to bring its polluting storm sewer system into compliance with the Clean Water Act. U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel issued the order and permanent injunction yesterday, in a lawsuit brought by the United States and New York State.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Mount Vernon’s longstanding failure to comply with its Clean Water Act obligations, including flouting EPA administrative orders, will now be remedied through judicial relief. This lawsuit was brought to protect the waters of this District, and the Court’s detailed and comprehensive order requires Mount Vernon to fix its ongoing violations, including the discharge of raw sewage and other illicit pollutants from its storm sewer system into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers.”
EPA Regional Administrator Peter D. Lopez said: “I am pleased that the City of Mount Vernon is being required to take the appropriate actions to protect its residents and downstream communities from threats posed by raw sewage and other pollutants. EPA and New York State have worked with Mount Vernon over the past several years and we look forward to seeing the problems with the storm sewer system resolved to protect public health and the environment.”
The Clean Water Act generally prohibits discharges of pollutants into navigable waters, absent a permit. Many municipalities, like Mount Vernon, operate “municipal separate storm sewer systems” that carry storm water and discharge it without treatment into nearby waters. Because separate storm sewer systems do not treat the water they discharge, a municipality is required by its Clean Water Act permit to maintain a program for identifying and eliminating any sewage or other illicit pollutants that are flowing into the storm sewers. On June 28, 2018, the United States filed a complaint in White Plains federal court, alleging that since at least January 2012, Mount Vernon has failed to comply with these permit obligations and, as a result, has allowed raw sewage to flow into its storm sewer system, and then to be discharged into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers. Mount Vernon has also failed to comply with two EPA Administrative Orders issued to compel Mount Vernon’s compliance with these requirements.
Before the Court, Mount Vernon did not dispute that it was liable for violating the Clean Water Act, and admitted that it was not in compliance with its legal obligations. The Court concluded that the undisputed facts regarding Mount Vernon’s non-compliance with the Clean Water Act were likely to cause irreparable injury and warranted the issuance of a permanent injunction to require Mount Vernon to come into full compliance and halt illicit discharges into the Hutchinson and Bronx Rivers. The Court ordered Mount Vernon to:
- Track down and identify all sources of illicit discharge for impaired storm sewer system outfalls, and eliminate all sources of illicit discharge;
- Perform necessary construction and repairs for impaired outfalls;
- Complete inspections to ensure detection of future illicit discharge;
- Obtain the necessary equipment, staffing, and funding to comply with its Clean Water Act and permit obligations;
- Develop an updated storm water management plan;
- Perform a sewer system evaluation survey of the sanitary sewer system to identify possible discharges of sewage and develop a sewer system corrective action plan; and
- Submit periodic reports to EPA and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Court deferred a determination of civil penalties owed by Mount Vernon until a later date.
The State of New York and the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation are co-plaintiffs in this lawsuit, asserting parallel claims under state law.
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Ms. Strauss thanked EPA’s attorneys and program staff for their invaluable efforts in this matter.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Environmental Protection Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Natasha W. Teleanu and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily E. Bretz have been in charge of the case.