A delay in upgrading a Fort Washington waste water pumping station has nearby residents concerned, as the facility’s problems have previously resulted in raw sewage being dumped into the Potomac River during storms.
The Broad Creek Waste Water Pumping Station, which pumps sewage from homes and businesses from as far north as Suitland and south to Accokeek for filtering, has found itself over capacity during heavy rain, which leads to the dumping of large amounts of raw sewage into the Potomac River.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which owns and operates the station, has disclosed several major sewage dump incidents in Broad Creek in recent years, including more than 300,000 gallons of sewage dumped during three spills between November 2009 and January 2010, as well as a 1.6 million-gallon sewage dump stemming from a power outage at the station in June 2008.
As a result of a 2004 lawsuit against the WSSC by several environmental groups over various Prince George’s County sewer system inadequacies, the agency is required by a federal court order to install a new 60-inch sewage main at the station, which will allow the station to handle larger amounts of waste.
The WSSC had until recently anticipated the project would be complete by 2014, but the commission told residents Oct. 22 that construction was delayed due to snags in the federal permitting process, as upgrades would require access to and construction on nearby National Park Service property.
Kira Lewis, a WSSC spokeswoman, said in a statement that the project still is “on track for completion in 2016 as required” by the court order.
“WSSC is working closely with local jurisdictions and agencies, including the State Highway Administration, the National Park Service and the Maryland Department of the Environment to secure the required permitting,” Lewis said.
Dick Krueger, president of the Broad Creek Historic District Local Advisory Committee, said that in addition to the delay, he was concerned that the WSSC wasn’t acting as efficiently as possible on other aspects of the process, such as advertising contracting opportunities for other portions of the facility’s upgrades, while they address permitting challenges.
WSSC also is working to improve the lining of pipes leading to the pumping station, so less groundwater seeps into the system during storms.
“The problem is the internal bureaucracy at WSSC with their contracting procedures is so rigid that it has precluded them from taking advantage of doing multiple things in parallel,” Krueger said. “...[Until things are expedited,] we’re going to continue to suffer the consequences of major sewage dumps in the middle of our community.”
Lewis said in a statement that one aspect of the project will have contract bid advertisements coming out “in late November 2012.”
WSSC officials were unavailable for further comment at press time.
Stephen Syphax, division chief of National Capital Parks East for the National Park Service, said his agency still is working on the environmental assessment of WSSC’s proposal, which he hopes to have completed for public comment within the next few months. Syphax said the environmental assessment is part of the National Park Service’s permit application process.
The document, once complete, will outline the environmental impact of the project on the National Park Service property, along with several options WSSC could take to mitigate those issues, Syphax said. He added that the expected positive impact of the upgraded pump station on the property also will be reflected in the report.
“Although we don’t have jurisdiction over the river, a lot of people use our parks to access the river,” Syphax said. “So we certainly have an interest in preventing water pollution.”
Krueger said he hopes his group can convene a meeting with the WSSC and National Park Service to figure out how to expedite the efforts, but has not yet been able to schedule it.
“We want to see if this can’t be negotiated into something more reasonable and less time-consuming,” Kreuger said.