Mart TCEQ report

A TCEQ report states aerators for this oxidation ditch at Mart’s wastewater treatment plant were not working, preventing treatment, and that excessive floating solids were visible.

The city of Mart plans to hire a manager to oversee operations at the wastewater treatment plant after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported multiple alleged violations of state environmental regulations, Mayor Len Williams said at the City Council meeting Monday night.

The TCEQ sent a report March 5 outlining 18 alleged violations documented by an investigator who visited the wastewater treatment facility Jan. 8.

“The ball’s been dropped here at City Hall. There’s no denying that,” Williams said to the roughly 20 people in attendance. “In fact, there’s been several city halls in the history of Mart that have dropped this ball. It is a situation we’re going to have to address.”

Rising from his seat at the center of the council table, Williams moved to the middle of the room to stand and walk as he talked about the city’s response to the TCEQ report. He said the TCEQ’s findings were the result of a “perfect storm” that involved an absent engineer, two broken solid waste pumps at the plant and residents of the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility flushing pieces of clothing down the toilet.

Williams vowed to keep a better eye on the wastewater treatment facility’s operations, which includes hiring a plant manager and allowing plant employees to work unlimited overtime to ensure the facility is operating properly. He said the city cannot live without a functional wastewater treatment plant.

Mart does not have the funds to construct a new wastewater treatment plant, so it will have to find temporary fixes for its problems, Williams said.

“We can’t rebuild a $10 million sewer plant,” he said.

On Dec. 31, the TCEQ Waco Regional Office received a complaint alleging the Mart wastewater treatment facility had a wastewater overflow, according to the investigative report. The facility must notify the TCEQ when an unauthorized discharge or overflow happens. An unauthorized discharge is a discharge of wastewater onto land or into a body of surface water or groundwater, according to the TCEQ.

The investigator noted that an unauthorized discharge happened at 1513 McLennan Street, and at the plant. A trench was dug under a fence to direct the plant overflow discharge of untreated wastewater into the receiving stream, which is supposed to receive wastewater that has been treated, according to the report.

David Gillam, a Mart resident, said at the meeting that he owns the property at 1513 McLennan Street where a discharge was reported. He said his property has been damaged and polluted by the city.

“The pollution was caused by the city illegally pumping several thousand gallons of raw sewage into the farm adjacent to my property. Rainfall brought the sewage into my property. Some sewage was pumped directly into my property,” Gillam said. “To settle this dispute, I am asking the city to restore my property to its original condition and to my satisfaction.”

Gillam will take legal action if necessary to get the city to restore his property, he said. The property has been in his family for more than 80 years.

The investigator also found that an unlicensed operator had been monitoring the wastewater treatment operations since at least July 2017, according to the report. The TCEQ asked that the unlicensed operator stop working at the facility until obtaining a license.

The report states that the city scraped sludge off the ground of the wastewater treatment plant, packed it into the back of a city dump truck and parked it near City Hall. The hauling and storage of sludge in an uncovered dump truck at City Hall without a permit presented multiple violations, including failure to obtain authorization to store and transport sludge.

Sludge is the solid, semi-solid or liquid residue generated during the treatment of sewage, according to the TCEQ. It can contain toxic materials, including heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, antibacterials, antibiotics, disinfectants and steroids.

Williams said the city will dispute this finding and others he did not name. He said the truck mentioned in the report contained “regular dirt,” not sludge.

Other alleged violations in the report include: a sample collected during the investigation exceeded the permitted E. coli limit established by the TCEQ; broken aeration system rotors prevented adequate wastewater treatment; large black floating solids found in the oxidation ditch; and sludge was found in the chlorine contact chamber.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Mart’s plans for a $17.5 million grant that will allow the city to overhaul its water systems and various streets. The city is waiting for further approval from the state Attorney General’s Office.

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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