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City, CFPUA differ on how to close books on 2006 sewer issue

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- After five years of work to improve public utilities, the CFPUA is looking to move forward with the EPA's approval. But to move forward it must correct problems made under the City of Wilmington's watch prior to CFPUA's 2008 takeover.

From 2003 to 2008 an aging, deteriorating sewage system saw more than 11 million gallons of wastewater spill from its lines leaving many New Hanover County residents feeling the effects of a stinky situation.

"The Clean Water Act says that you should not have any wastewater spills beyond your control," CFPUA CEO Matt Jordan said. "They always look at all of those, and you have to report those, and they're looking for ways to eliminate those."

Since CFPUA took over the water and sewer assets and liability of both the county and city in 2008 it has been working with the EPA on a consent decree that would see CFPUA spend millions of dollars on facility and pipeline repairs that in the past have contributed to violations of the Clean Water Act.

"Our goal is to eliminate all wastewater spills, and realistically that's difficult to do," Jordan said. "We have shown and demonstrated that through these programs and carefully planning and replacing infrastructure that you can do a very good job in improving those."

The only sticking point on the consent decree appears to be money.

The City of Wilmington put a stop to a vote that would have spent $420,000 on civil penalties and a supplemental environmental project. Instead, the city would rather pay a $300,000 fine.

"The council just felt like this would be a great way to put a dark page in Wilmington's history and New Hanover County's history to bed," said Wilmington City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark, who is also a member of the CFPUA Board of Directors. "This was all caused by the Northeast Interceptor sewer line break back in 2005 or 2006, and this is a way to just kind of put it to bed."

The City of Wilmington has been holding money to pay for the fine in reserve since the violation occurred when it was in charge of its own sewer and water service in 2006.

Wilmington City Council will discuss the issue again at its next meeting.

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