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Chesapeake Bay Foundation fails to raise discharge regs

By CAROL VAUGHN

ONANCOCK -- A ruling on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality last month went in favor of the town of Onancock, who was named as a party in the suit.

The foundation alleged that the state should not have issued Onancock a wastewater discharge permit last year because it did not include a limit on nitrogen and phosphorus being discharged into a branch of Onancock Creek.

But the ruling handed down Nov. 3 in Richmond Circuit Court said the primary issue is "whether DEQ and the (State Water Quality Control) Board have the authority and obligation to include a numeric limit for nutrient pollution of nitrogen and phosphorus in this permit."

The court found that legal requirements were met in issuing the town's permit, and said the Clean Water Act, while requiring such limits, allows until 2010 for scheduling them.

The foundation plans to appeal the decision, Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Virginia press secretary Chuck Epps said Thursday.

He said the court "fundamentally misunderstood" some of the regulations in question and "misinterpreted some of the facts in the case."

Asked why Onancock town officials first heard of the lawsuit via an article in The Washington Post, Epps said it was because the lawsuit was actually against the state, not Onancock, although the town was listed as a party in the suit.

"Our complaint wasn't against the town of Onancock," he said, but "our issue is that Virginia rivers and the Chesapeake Bay have long-known and well-documented problems with pollutants, especially nitrogen."

Onancock's wastewater treatment plant serves homes and businesses in town, as well as the Accomack County Industrial Park and areas along U.S. Route 13.

Town Manager Susan Scott said Thursday the town would move ahead with work on updating its wastewater system, and said Onancock "would not knowingly do anything to degrade the Bay. Onancock Creek and the Chesapeake Bay are the town's legacy and our history."

She added, "Anytime the DEQ has asked us to do X, Y and Z, we've done it."

Scott said the discharge permit that prompted the suit may be reopened in any case by the DEQ, which wants to "put in some nutrient numbers," but that the town would be given time by the state to comply with any limits.

The town just applied for a $6.3 million DEQ grant to help defray the cost of adding nutrient removal technology to the treatment plant.

Scott said upgrades to the system will cost an estimated $11.9 million, including $2.5 million to relocate the effluent outfall pipe further out in Onancock Creek to better dissipate the discharge.

Sixty-nine percent of the upgrade's total cost, Scott said, will be spent on nutrient removal.

The town has already been granted $500,000 from state Housing and Urban Development funds, along with a no-interest, 20-year loan of over $5 million to help pay for wastewater plant improvements.

Town Manager Susan Scott said Thursday the town would move ahead with

work on updating its wastewater system, and said Onancock "would not knowingly do anything to degrade the Bay. Onancock Creek and the Chesapeake Bay are the town's legacy

and our history."

She added, "Anytime the

DEQ has asked us to do X, Y and Z, we've done it."