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West Virginia environmental regulators have fined the state Department of Transportation for more than three dozen permit violations over a two-year period at a department rest area and welcome center in Preston County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has made public a consent order issued by its Division of Water and Waste Management to the Department of Transportation in February that hit the latter with a $75,175 civil administrative penalty. Half of the fine is to be paid to the former agency and half to be held in abeyance upon the Department of Transportation’s completion of a corrective action plan that addresses the root causes of the violations.

The Environmental Protection department advertised a proposed settlement of the consent order with the Transportation department Friday to invite public comments for a 30-day period.

State environmental regulators say they found and documented dark effluent discharging at an outlet at the Interstate 68 welcome center, near Hazelton, in April 2020. Regulators found sand filter beds that were flooded, and contained algal growth and vegetation with ultraviolet lights not working to provide disinfection.

The Department of Environmental Protection subsequently issued the Department of Transportation a notice of violation and then, in May 2020, found upon a follow-up sampling event at the facility that the Transportation department exceeded its permitted effluent limits. The effluent sample yielded a fecal coliform level more than nine-times the maximum permitted limit, resulting in another violation notice.

An Environmental Protection department review of facility records from April 2018 through March 2020 found 42 permit exceedances, including 24 major violations. The Transportation department failed to submit sample results for each regulated pollutant parameter or discharge monitoring reports for the first quarter of 2020 within 20 days as required, not doing so until August.

In December, the Department of Transportation sent state environmental regulators a corrective action plan and schedule detailing action items and targeted completion dates for them that the regulators approved.

Transportation department Public Relations Director Jennifer Jo Dooley noted the agency’s Division of Highways has signed the order and agreed to comply with the terms.

Environmental regulators also reported an operator’s log book at the facility had been irregularly maintained. Lapses in the facility log book happened, Dooley said, “on a few occasions” due to inclement weather, lack of manpower and COVID-19.

Environmental Protection department Acting Communications Director Terry Fletcher declined comment, citing the consent order still being up for public comment.

The Department of Transportation corrective action plan calls for routine inspections including visual discharge observations, checking ultraviolet bulbs to assure lights are functional and all tanks for proper levels at least three days a week, quarterly pumping out holding tanks and additional effluent sampling, and monthly cleaning and replacement of ultraviolet bulbs.

The department has designed a sanitary sewer line to connect to the Hazelton Public Service District and has worked with the public service district to get permits from the Environmental Protection department and the state Public Service Commission for the sanitary sewer connection, according to Dooley.

Dooley said the department’s District Four that includes Preston County has performed regular maintenance on the facility.

“In the past 2 to 3 years, tens of thousands of dollars and countless man hours have been invested in this waste water plant in an effort to achieve compliance with the state regulations,” Dooley wrote in an email, adding that routine pumping of the holding tanks has occurred at least three times a year and that ultraviolet lights have been replaced as needed.

The new sewer line from the I-68 welcome center to the Hazelton Public Service District will eliminate the need for the Transportation department’s own plant at the welcome center to maintain, according to Dooley. Construction on the new line is targeted to begin by July, per the department’s corrective action plan, and will include modifications to existing lines in the building that were not placed properly when built and removal of the old waste water treatment plant at the welcome center.

Reach Mike Tony at mtony@hdmediallc.com, 304-348-1236 or follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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