By Eric Freedman
The chief operator of a Western New York municipal wastewater treatment plant has been placed on probation for six months and fined $10,000 for illegally discharging untreated sewage into Chautauqua Creek, a 15-mile-long tributary of Lake Erie.
Andrew Thompson, the public works director for the village of Westfield in Chautauqua County, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act arising from a 2014 incident.
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, “Each October through April, the creek offers one of the top Lake Erie steelhead runs in western New York.” It’s also home to rainbow trout, brown trout and smallmouth bass.
The investigation, conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state agency, didn’t determine that any long-term or permanent environmental damage had occurred, said Barbara Burns, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in Buffalo.
Here’s what happened: A malfunction at the West Side Pump Station on June 12, 2014, left the facility unable to pump untreated sewage through the station, enabling it to flow accidentally into the creek, the prosecution said in a statement.
“Based on an alarm that was triggered due to the sewage overflow, Thompson was aware of the discharge into the creek,” it said. The next day, Thompson ordered workers to deliberately discharge the untreated sewage into the creek.
“Thompson did not have a permit issued under the Clean Water Act for the discharge of the untreated sewage, a pollutant, into the creek and acted negligently in allowing the untreated sewage to be discharged in such a manner,” the statement said.
The negligent discharge violation carries a potential maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of $2,500 to $25,000 per day of violation.
Thompson is listed as director of the Department of Public Works on the village website.