Coastal Review Online: State fines Eagle Creek sewer system operator $60K

A worker removes a failed vacuum pump from the “pit” in front of an Eagle Creek home in October 2020. [image courtesy]

State water quality regulators have fined the Virginia-based operator of a wastewater collection system that serves a Currituck County residential subdivision.

The Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources has fined Sandler Utilities at Mill Run, LLC $62,517.96 for failure to effectively manage, maintain and operate its sewer collection system that serves the Eagle Creek Subdivision, a development of about 400 homes in Moyock. The state announced the penalty December 21.

The division said it had received complaints from homeowners beginning Sept. 29 indicating that the Eagle Creek collection system was not operating and sanitary sewer overflows were ongoing. Sewage generated in the development is conveyed from homes by a vacuum sewer collection system to a central wastewater plant located within the subdivision. Residents reported being without reliable sewer service for about two weeks.

The division said the cause was identified as failures of the sewer system’s vacuum pumps and related components, as well as other collection system infrastructure, which led to wastewater overflows throughout the development. There were some instances of wastewater backing up into residents’ homes, creating public health concerns.

On Oct. 7, the division issued a notice of violation to the collection-system permit-holder for Eagle Creek, Sandler Utilities, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Sandler responded to the violation notice, saying the pumps required for repairs were not readily available and once the new pumps were installed and operational, “it was a long, arduous process to get the entire vacuum system up and running.”

The company’s project manager Brittney M. Willis said in the response that the extent of the overflows was unknown at the time, “and our understanding is that the overflow volumes remained minimal, unless a homeowner pulled the plug on their home to intentionally release sewage into the adjacent ditch system.”

Following the division’s investigation, a $60,000civil penalty was assessed based on factors including the degree and extent of harm to the environment, public health and private property, with an additional $2,517.96 fee for investigative costs.

Sandler Utilities has 30 days to respond to the permit violation assessment with options to pay the fine, file an appeal, or request an adjustment of the penalty amount.

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