Local News

Kinston Officials Fail to Report Sewage Spills

Posted May 22, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— The city of Kinston faces as much as $80,000 in fines for failing to report several spills of raw sewage, including one this winter involving at least 1 million gallons of untreated human waste.

State officials said Wednesday that there have been four unreported spills at the Kinston sewage plants since June 1996.

Ernie Seneca, a spokesman with the state Division of Water Quality, said the environmental damage from the spills could not be determined because they weren't reported within 24 hours, as required under state law.

Seneca said Kinston officials clearly disregarded their wastewater discharge permit by not reporting the spills.

Kinston officials said they didn't know they had to report the spills.

``We had viewed our reporting requirements as anything that damaged the environment,'' said Kinston Utilities Director Ron Wicker. ``We just misinterpreted what was reportable. We now know a cupful is reportable.''

Neuse River Keeper Rick Dove has sent a letter to state officials calling for a criminal investigation by the Environmental Crimes Unit of the State Bureau of Investigation.

``I don't know that any criminal activity took place, but it seems to me that there are enough events taking place that it ought to be looked at,'' Dove said.

Dove said he has received reports that the largest spill earlier this year may have involved as much as 3 million gallons of raw sewage.

Seneca did not rule out a criminal probe by the SBI, but said environmental officials planned to continue their investigation.

``Right now, we're going to proceed with the enforcement package,'' he said.

State officials began looking into problems at the Kinston sewage plants on May 8, after receiving a report of a spill on April 22. The spill at the Northside plant released at least 150,000 gallons of untreated sewage.

Environmental investigators then learned of three other unreported spills, the largest at the town's Peachtree plant this winter.

The other spills, in June 1996 and on April 26, were much smaller, but officials are unsure of the exact volume of the discharges.

A fifth spill, on May 15, was reported to the state.

Most of the spills were caused by mechanical failure in the plants' grit removal systems, officials said.

Kinston officials said they did not report the sewage spills because all were contained and none of the sewage flowed into the Neuse River.

When asked what contained the sewage, City Manager Tony Barrett said, ``the ground.''

``It did not go into the Neuse River,'' Barrett said.

However, Kinston officials said one of the April spills happened during a thunderstorm, when runoff is most likely to push sewage into the river.

Barrett also said the town's sewage plant was not near the Neuse River, even though the Northside plant is less than a half-mile away and the Peachtree plant is less than one mile away.

Barrett and Wicker said work is underway to correct the problems.

By SCOTT MOONEYHAM,Associated Press Writer Copyright ©1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.