Sewage lawsuit leaves mess for Millbrae 

After six months of negotiations, an agreement has been reached between Millbrae and a local pollution watchdog group in a federal lawsuit over bacteria-tainted water that leaked into San Francisco Bay.

The City Council voted Tuesday to adopt a consent decree, which will cost the city $1.9 million. San Francisco Baykeeper sued Millbrae for violating the city’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System wastewater and stormwater permits. While the purpose of the settlement is to reduce sewer overflows, Mayor Paul Seto said the city had already implemented improvement measures prior to receiving notification of Baykeeper’s intent to sue.

“The city has been proactive and responsible,” Seto said. “We are stunned and disappointed that they would pursue a small city that can’t afford these consent agreements.”

Over the past five years, Seto said the city has expended significant resources to ensure its facilities comply with the federal Clean Water Act, including a $30 million renovation of its wastewater treatment plant that will add storage capacity to the collection system and help reduce sewer overflows. Currently, the city spends about $1 million annually on repairs to its collection system and cleans its 55 miles of sewer mains every 12 months.

“The city is already burdened with paying $30 million for the treatment plant, which was an improvement agreed upon before the Baykeepers’ reported violations,” Seto said. “We are now going to have to increase rates and taxes again, placing a further burden on residents.”

The consent decree, which will terminate in six years, requires the city to make substantial improvements to its sewage infrastructure involving enhanced inspection programs, a comprehensive sanitary sewer overflows reduction action plan and an integrated management system, which will require continuous employment of in-house personnel.

“Because of the lawsuit, Millbrae has committed to an aggressive plan to come into compliance with federal clean water laws,” Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self said in a statement.

Millbrae is not the first municipality to face such scrutiny since Baykeeper began its “sick of sewage campaign” in 2005. San Bruno, South San Francisco, the West Bay Sanitation District, Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont and the Stege Sanitary District are involved in ongoing negotiations with the organization.

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