Tallahassee — A pattern of serious sewage-related violations by the City of Boca Raton needs federal intervention because state officials have refused to enforce clean water laws, according to a formal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The PEER complaint cites two dozen violations involving millions of gallons of untreated raw sewage or improperly discharged wastewater coupled with state officials consistently blocking appropriate penalties.
Although the City of Boca Raton has a permit allowing it to legally discharge millions of gallons of treated wastewater each day directly into the Atlantic Ocean and two non-marine outflows, the city has repeatedly violated that permit. In one example, the city illegally discharged 25 million gallons of treated wastewater into the El-Rio Canal. Rather than seek a tough sanction, Mike Sole, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), intervened to quash the imposition of a fine even though the DEP case manager had recommended a $36,000 fine due to the serious environmental harm
The PEER complaint details 24 violations by Boca Raton but state penalties were imposed in only two of those cases, and even those penalties were significantly reduced. Problems include –
- Raw sewage discharged into the Intracoastal Waterway and other water-bodies;
- Improperly “reclaimed” wastewater containing toilet paper, worms and other solid materials; and
- Cross-contamination of drinking water with wastewater.
“What is going on inside the Boca Raton municipal treatment facility is both nauseating and a threat to public health and our environment,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who filed the complaint. “In Boca Raton, business as usual is flouting Florida’s environmental laws, except when forced to comply.”
The PEER “overfile” complaint was filed with the acting EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta seeking to invoke EPA’s concurrent authority to enforce the Clean Water Act. It demands that EPA immediately take jurisdiction over (i.e., overfile) the case in order to protect public health and the environment and maintain the credibility of the federal program. If problems remain unaddressed, PEER can appeal the matter to EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in Washington.
“We have amassed piles of documentation evidencing a litany of pollution violations covering a wide variety of problems yet the only consistent pattern is the DEP looking the other way,” added Phillips, noting that many of the disclosures are based upon Boca Raton’s own records that were amassed by members of the public, in addition to a former employee who was fired for reporting the conditions to state authorities. “The responsible officials should be required to drink only water that comes out of the Boca Raton wastewater treatment facility for the next year.”