FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ENR
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 1998 DOJ (202) 616-2765
U.S. ATTORNEY (504) 680-3000
EPA HEADQUARTERS (202) 564-2611
EPA REGION 6 (214) 665-2200
TDD (202) 514-1888
NEW ORLEANS AGREES TO MORE THAN $200 MILLION SETTLEMENT
TO PREVENT SEWAGE FROM FLOWING INTO NEARBY WATERS
Sewerage and Water Board Will Restore Water Quality Near
Abandoned Once-Segregated Lincoln Beach
Washington, D.C. -- The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that New Orleans has agreed to a settlement worth more than $200 million to address allegations that for several years its sewage system spilled raw sewage into nearby waters. The Justice Department and EPA also announced that the City will restore water quality in an area known as Lincoln Beach, a once-segregated beach that has been abandoned since the 1960s.
"This agreement is good for the people of New Orleans and good for the environment," said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. "It will help ensure that residents have an effective sewage collection system and safe, healthy water to swim and fish in. They deserve nothing less."
Under the settlement, filed today in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the Sewerage and Water Board will renovate its antiquated sewage collection system to prevent future sewage discharges into the Mississippi River and other nearby waters. It also will pay $1.5 million in civil penalties and spend $2 million improving water quality along Lincoln Beach, a park which was created for the purpose of serving African-Americans who were barred by law from admission to the then white-only Pontchartrain Beach amusement park.
Today's settlement resolves a suit filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1993. It alleged that the Board's failure to properly operate and maintain its treatment and collection system violated the federal Clean Water Act. The suit also alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.
In 1997, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Orleans Audobon Society, League of Women Voters of New Orleans and Louisiana Environmental Action Network intervened in this lawsuit asserting Clean Water Act violations.
"This settlement shows how the federal and local government can work together to benefit the environment and protect human health. The renovation and cleanup projects that the city will conduct are good news for the citizens of New Orleans, who will be able to rely on Lincoln Beach, Lake Pontchartrain and its adjacent lands for boating and other forms of recreation," said Steve Herman, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance.
New Orleans is located six feet below sea level and often receives a very large volume of rainfall in a short time period. As a result, the capacity of the sewage collection system, which is deteriorating due to more than 50 years of disrepair, is often exceeded. The overflow of sewage spills into city streets and into canals that drain into Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. Sewage overflows are also common when the collection pipes carrying sewage are blocked, when the pipes break, and when equipment designed to pump the sewage to the treatment plant fails.
"This agreement will offer greater protection to the health and well being of New Orleans residents. Bringing the city's sewage collection system into compliance with the Clean Water Act regulations will prevent the release of untreated sewage into streets, canals, rivers and lakes," said Acting Region 6 Administrator Jerry Clifford.
Under the agreement, the Board, with approval from the City of New Orleans, which is also settling this lawsuit, will:
study the East Bank Treatment Plant and Sewage Collection System to identify the causes of overflow and completely renovate its collection system to alleviate future overflows;
implement a comprehensive preventive maintenance program that requires the Board to inspect and clean its sewer pipes and pumping equipment on a regular basis;
utilize a storm sewer monitoring program to assist EPA in determining whether the steps undertaken by the City under the agreement are successful;
work with environmental specialists to restore, enhance and create wetlands, including the planting of aquatic vegetation, to help filter and neutralize sewage pollutants in part of Lake Pontchartrain in the area of Lincoln Beach; and,
enter into agreements with the Orleans Levee Board, which governs Lincoln Beach, as well as the State of Louisiana and other necessary parties, to help ensure that no action is taken to disrupt the Board's efforts to undertake these water quality improvements.
United States Attorney Eddie Jordan said, "Lake Pontchartrain is a vital part of our lives in Southeastern Louisiana. Sadly, we can no longer swim in this wonderful lake because of the health hazards caused by raw sewage, among other things. As we rapidly approach the day when we can once again take full advantage of the lake, it helps to know that today's settlement will bolster our efforts to keep our lake clean."
Added Jordan, "What's more, this agreement will enable our community to reclaim Lincoln Beach and transform a section of our lake, which once carried the stigma of racial discrimination, as well as substantial health risks, into a cleaner and safer natural resource which all members of our community can enjoy."
The proposed settlement will be published in the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period and is subject to court approval.