State officials said Wednesday that there have been fourunreported spills at the Kinston sewage plants since June 1996.
Ernie Seneca, a spokesman with the state Division of WaterQuality, said the environmental damage from the spills could not bedetermined because they weren't reported within 24 hours, asrequired under state law.
Seneca said Kinston officials clearly disregarded theirwastewater discharge permit by not reporting the spills.
Kinston officials said they didn't know they had to report thespills.
``We had viewed our reporting requirements as anything thatdamaged the environment,'' said Kinston Utilities Director RonWicker. ``We just misinterpreted what was reportable. We now know acupful is reportable.''
Neuse River Keeper Rick Dove has sent a letter to stateofficials calling for a criminal investigation by the EnvironmentalCrimes Unit of the State Bureau of Investigation.
``I don't know that any criminal activity took place, but itseems to me that there are enough events taking place that it oughtto be looked at,'' Dove said.
Dove said he has received reports that the largest spillearlierthis year may have involved as much as 3 million gallons of rawsewage.
Seneca did not rule out a criminal probe by the SBI, but saidenvironmental officials planned to continue their investigation.
``Right now, we're going to proceed with the enforcementpackage,'' he said.
State officials began looking into problems at the Kinstonsewage plants on May 8, after receiving a report of a spill onApril 22. The spill at the Northside plant released at least150,000 gallons of untreated sewage.
Environmental investigators then learned of three otherunreported spills, the largest at the town's Peachtree plant thiswinter.
The other spills, in June 1996 and on April 26, were muchsmaller, but officials are unsure of the exact volume of thedischarges.
A fifth spill, on May 15, was reported to the state.
Most of the spills were caused by mechanical failure in theplants' grit removal systems, officials said.
Kinston officials said they did not report the sewage spillsbecause all were contained and none of the sewage flowed into theNeuse River.
When asked what contained the sewage, City Manager Tony Barrettsaid, ``the ground.''
``It did not go into the Neuse River,'' Barrett said.
However, Kinston officials said one of the April spillshappenedduring a thunderstorm, when runoff is most likely to push sewageinto the river.
Barrett also said the town's sewage plant was not near theNeuseRiver, even though the Northside plant is less than a half-mileaway and the Peachtree plant is less than one mile away.
Barrett and Wicker said work is underway to correct theproblems.
By SCOTT MOONEYHAM,Associated Press WriterCopyright ©1997 AssociatedPress. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,rewritten, or distributed.
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