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 State May Fine Carthage $11k for Chlorine Spill

January 14, 2009 - A chlorine spill last summer by a contractor working on the Carthage’s water improvement project could result in a fine of more than $11,000 for the town and the contractor.

On Dec. 24, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a notice of violation to both the town and Dave O’Mara Contractor, Inc., regarding the July 16 incident. In a proposed agreed order that accompanied the notice of violation, IDEM offered to resolve the matter by holding the town and O’Mara, a firm based in North Vernon, jointly and severally responsible for a civil penalty in the amount of $11,250, plus $113.24 “for the value of the damage to natural resources.”

Workers for O’Mara, one of three contractors hired to work on the town’s water improvement project, had been using chlorine to disinfect new water lines they were installing in town last summer. According to IDEM, chlorinated water was purged from the disinfected lines into two storm drains that flow into a local creek that feeds into the Big Blue River, with the contamination causing a small fish kill.

According to IDEM’s notice, the spill resulted in at least four violations of state environmental management and water pollution laws: (1) dishcarging a pollutant into the state’s waters without a valid permit; (2) failure to properly contain, and/or respond and/or report the discharge of the pollutants; (3) causing or allowing the discharge of water containing pollutants in amounts sufficient to be classified as contaminants or waste; and (4) the discharged water containing pollutants caused, or contributed to, the contamination of state waters, resulting in a fish kill.

“Obviously, the town is not liable for any of this,” said Carthage Town Council President Rick Bush at last Wednesday’s regular monthly town council meeting. He told other council members that the town’s attorney, Chuck Todd, will be speaking with representatives from IDEM and O’Mara to negotiate a resolution, saying he didn’t think the town should have to pay anything.

“It doesn’t matter what the fine is,” Bush said. “This town isn’t responsible for it. … It was the contractor’s mistake, so they pay for it.”

Council member Jack Taylor asked whether the town’s insurance would cover any of the town’s legal fees for Todd’s efforts to resolve the matter.

“As far as I’m concerned, the town of Carthage shouldn’t be out one dime over this,” Bush said. If the town incurs attorney fees, he said he felt that the O’Mara should be responsible.

While the town had not yet contacted O’Mara to discuss the notice of violation, Bush said he didn’t think the contractor would refuse to pay the fine. “They’re a good company,” he said, “... (and) they’ve got insurance to cover this.”

A cover letter sent with the notice of violation and proposed agreed order indicates that the amount of the civil penalty may be negotiable. Althea Lenahan, a case manager for IDEM’s Water Enforcement Section of the Office of Water Quality, said in the letter that the penalty amount is “a preliminary penalty figure for settlement discussion purposes only and is based on penalty calculations associated with the alleged violations. ...”

According to the notice of violation, the town and O’Mara have 60 days from the date the notice was received to accept the proposed agreed order IDEM offered. If the agreed order is not accepted, the notice of violation says the agency may be able to assess penalties of up to $25,000 a day for each violation.

In another piece of IDEM-related business, Jon Query, an engineer working with the town on its water and proposed wastewater improvement projects, provided the council with a copy of a letter he drafted to IDEM regarding the timeframe for the town’s proposed wastewater improvement project. The letter, which was prepared for Bush’s signature, advises IDEM that the town is still waiting to secure funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development, with construction for the Phase I of the two-phase wastewater project expected to begin this summer.

Bush also advised the council that IDEM has asked the town provide updates every three months with respect to another agreed order that the town’s wastewater utility is operating under. That agreed order is the result of the town’s wastewater plant operating above its maximum capacity, something that is largely due to the influx and infiltration of surface water into the town’s wastewater pipes.

More news from the Jan. 7 Carthage Town Council meeting will appear in next week’s Banner.


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