CAPON BRIDGE — Even with the discovery of sewage issues at Capon Bridge Middle School, the town’s sewer system has unresolved issues.
Although pieces of food apparently washed into the wastewater plant from CBMS, school officials said Monday that the school’s grease trap was operating and being cleaned regularly.
That leaves in place the mystery of grease and oil in the system that has been the subject of much discussion since February 2017, when the town sewer department sent letters to businesses and non-profits demanding they install large grease traps (1,000 gallons for both the Ruritan Community Center and the Sherrard Auction House) or risk termination of service.
At the Feb. 14, 2017, town council meeting Mayor Steve Sirbaugh explained that the state Department of Environmental Protection had given the town 20 days to act on grease and oil accumulating in the sewer plant. A large fine was threatened, he said, described as “a $20,000 fine by the end of March,” by the town’s lawyer Royce Saville at the March 17, 2017, meeting.
No trace of such a threat or fine was found in DEP database records retrieved in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Review.
In January 2017 the town sewer plant had received a violation notice, the first to mention grease and oil. It was the 3rd in less than a year, citing violations including sludge, solids and “discolored water” entering the river.
Grease and oil control had been chosen as the easiest sewer plant problem to address, Saville explained that March.
The Capon Bridge Town Council began adding new requirements for grease control to the town sewer ordinance that included large in-ground grease traps for any businesses serving food.
Despite opposition from businesses and local residents, the town council adopted the revised ordinance in October 2017.
The revision was controversial because the businesses targeted already had grease control measures in place, and those operating commercial kitchens were already in compliance with health department standards based on the same Health and Human Services grease trap sizing form the town was using, leading to complaints about the town’s interpretation of the form.
In the meantime, the sewer plant had been failing additional inspections, and when the DEP inspector submitted samples of the plant’s effluent for testing in December 2017, fecal coliform bacteria were found at 75 times the permitted level — pollution much more dangerous than grease.
Planning began for an upgraded sewer plant, and adjustments were made that improved the quality of the plant’s effluent. The more serious of the 2 violation notices received this year, from a June 6 inspection, found coliform bacteria at just 7.5 times the permitted level — still high, but a tenth of what was reported 18 months earlier.
None of the upgrades described in open council meetings involved dealing with grease and oil.
Problems with grease and oil have remained. Some undoubtedly comes from kitchens in private homes.
So far no information seems to be available on what impact, if any, the new demands made in the sewer ordinance may already have had on grease and oil control in the sewer plant, and it will take time to evaluate what additional improvements result from repairs at the middle school.
The town was notified about the middle school’s discovery last week, though it was not on the agenda for the August town council meeting scheduled for last night.
The school system opted to issue a written statement, not yet received as of this writing, rather than discuss the problem further with the Review. o