FOR IMMEDIATE PRESS RELEASE
Office of the Mayor, City of Holyoke
HOLYOKE – Mayor Joshua A. Garcia and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have announced that they, along with the U.S. Justice Department and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, have entered into a consent decree to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act and state law.
The decree calls for Holyoke to take further remedial action to reduce ongoing sewage discharges into the Connecticut River from the city’s sewer collection and stormwater systems.
During periods of heavy rain, the wastewater volume can exceed the carrying capacity of the combined sewer system or the Holyoke treatment facility, resulting in the discharge of untreated wastewater and raw sewage into the Connecticut River.
“This is not a new problem,” Mayor Garcia said. “This is what the state of Massachusetts calls a ‘legacy problem of early infrastructure.’ Many communities are dealing with the same issue and it’s always expensive because it requires redesign and upgrade.
“The problem isn’t new but what is new is the willingness of the federal and state governments to provide Holyoke with breathing room so that we can come up with a permanent fix to this decades’ old problem. With an eye on the costs to our local ratepayers — and looking to seize any and all funding opportunities to reduce that local burden — this consent decree gives Holyoke both the time and operational flexibility to plan its way forward to cleaner streets, a cleaner city and a cleaner Connecticut River.”
The total cost to comply with the proposed consent decree is estimated at approximately $27 million. The decree imposes a $50,000 penalty on the city for previous alleged permit violations where Holyoke allegedly discharged pollutants from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the Connecticut River.
In open cooperation with federal and state environmental agencies, Holyoke has taken steps in recent years to address these discharges, including finalizing a long-term overflow control plan, separating sewers and eliminating overflows in the Jackson Street area.
The consent decree requires the city to undertake further sewer separation work to eliminate or reduce additional combined sewer overflows. The city also will conduct sampling of its storm sewer discharges, work to remove illicit connections, and take other actions to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff.
The City received notice of these violations in August 2022. In response, the Mayor’s Office put together a team to coordinate and negotiate efforts with the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and the Attorney General’s Office. This team included Mayor Joshua Garcia, Assistant City Solicitor Michael Bissonnette, City Engineer Kris Baker, and Chair of the Board of Public Works, Mary Monahan, and interim the Superintendent of Public Works. The City Council was updated on the status of these discussions.
The City team worked with the regulators and identified opportunities to comply with the ordered actions and schedules. The City’s immediate concern was the potential fine amount and the City’s ability to pay it. Based on the substance of the violations and the length of time, the potential fine could be in the millions. The $50,000 fine is the result of the team effort to ensure compliance and the City’s offer to develop an Integrated Management Plan to address existing and future needs in the City’s wastewater and stormwater management systems. This plan will identify infrastructure needs, prioritize infrastructure projects, include public outreach and participation, and allow the City to develop a financial plan to fund priority projects through grants and capital planning.
Holyoke also has begun the process of compliance under the new federal MS-4 municipal requirements. These rules are to prevent untreated stormwater waste from going in the river.