Guilty plea expected in Allegheny River pollution case

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By Eric Freedman

A former supervisor of a Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority plant is expected to plead guilty to a felony charge for allegedly ordering employees to discharge sludge into the Allegheny River.

James Paprocki was charged with conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act after an Environmental Protection Agency investigation, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh.

Since the 1990s, the authority has been responsible for supplying water to homes and businesses in Pittsburgh and nearby communities, the criminal charge said.

Paprocki had been a supervisor at the authority’s Aspinwall drinking water plant when the illegal discharges occurred between 2010-2017, court documents say. The plant produces an average of about 80 million gallons of drinking water daily.

“Such (illegal) discharges occurred multiple times a year since at least 2010. Plumes of discolored waters and solids, including anthracite coal used in filters, were visible in the Allegheny River,” the criminal charge said.

Authority employees “observed discolored plume extending several hundred feet into the river. Employees and others also observed the buildup of solids in the Allegheny River,” it said.

The criminal charge said Paprocki started as a plant operator, became maintenance supervisor in 2010 and was a first-line and second-line supervisor until he quit in November 2018.

Paprocki and a second supervisor directed employees to discharge into the river so-called clarifier sludge, which is created when “raw water” is converted to drinkable water,  the charge  said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s press release didn’t name the second supervisor, but a grand jury indicted Paprocki’s former supervisor, Glenn Lijewski, last November.

Lijewski, who retired in 2017, has pleaded not guilty. The case against him remains pending, court records show.

Also last November, the authority agreed to plead guilty to violating its discharge permit and making false statements in reports about the amount of sludge it was sending to the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, known as ALCOSAN.

At the time, prosecutors said there had been “years of mismanagement and malfeasance” by the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority.

Under the plea deal, the authority agreed to follow a comprehensive environmental compliance program and to prevent further illegal pollution of the Allegheny River.

The authority’s discharge permit limited the daily amount of sludge that could be discharged and required it to report the amount actually discharged, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. However, when some flow meters at the plant stopped working, Paprocki and other employees estimated the discharge amounts instead of reporting the actual amounts, according to the charge.

The maximum sentence Paprocki faces if convicted is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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