Fayette County

EPA fines Lexington $102,000 after sewers overflow 51 times

The $19.1 million Town Branch storage tank off Old Frankfort Pike is expected to limit storm water overflow. It is part of a project to improve Lexington’s sewage and storm-water systems.
The $19.1 million Town Branch storage tank off Old Frankfort Pike is expected to limit storm water overflow. It is part of a project to improve Lexington’s sewage and storm-water systems. 2015 File Photo.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has hit the city of Lexington with a more than $100,000 fine for 51 sewer overflows over a 15-month period, city officials said Wednesday.

The 51 overflows occurred between Aug. 22, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2015. The city signed an agreement with state and federal environmental oversight agencies in 2012. As part of that agreement — called a consent decree — the city agreed to a $590 million overhaul and upgrade of the city’s storm water system to decrease sewage overflows That agreement also said that the city could be fined $2,000 for each overflow resulting from backed pipes beginning in 2014. The city owes the EPA $102,000, the city said in a written release.

The city will pay for the fine out of its sewer fund — a fund earmarked for sewer projects.

Charlie Martin, the city’s director of the Division of Water Quality, said the city has made significant progress implementing the $590 million upgrade — 16 projects have been completed and 37 are underway. But the system is old and complex, Martin said.

“There are over 7 million feet of publicly owned sewer pipelines in Lexington and another 32,000 manholes that need to be cleaned regularly,” Martin said.

Of the 51 overflows, 30 percent were caused by cooking grease clogging pipes and an additional 27 percent by slush or debris blocking flow.

Fats, oils and grease cause a lot of headaches and blockages for pipes. Don’t run hot water over dishes, pans or fryers to wash oil and grease down the drain. It doesn’t work, according to information provided by the city. The grease will eventually solidify in the pipes. Don’t use the garbage disposal to break up grease. It, too, will solidify.

Instead allow any fats, oils and grease to cool before putting it into a sealable container. Freeze the container and then throw it away.

“Since 2012, we’ve made rebuilding our sewers a priority and we have made a lot of progress,” Martin said. “We clean hundreds of thousands of linear feet of sewer line annually. Last year it was 1.1 million linear feet.”

Martin said there has been a decrease in overflows since the $590 million overhaul began.

“No system is ever perfect,” Martin said. “There are always unusual storms and blockages that will cause overflows.”

This is the first time the city has been fined by the EPA for overflows since the consent decree was finalized in 2012.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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