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Cape Fear/Wilmington, North Carolina Settlement

(ATLANTA, GA - July 11, 2013) -  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a Clean Water Act (CWA) settlement with the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (Authority) in North Carolina. The proposed settlement set forth in a consent decree will resolve these parties’ liability for violations of the CWA, including unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage. The consent decree requires the parties to pay a civil penalty of $300,000 and implement measures to bring the sewer system into compliance.

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Overview of Sewer Authority and Facility Location

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (Cape Fear) is the owner and operator of the municipal wastewater collection, retention and transmission systems (consisting of over 937 miles of sanitary sewer lines and 139 pump stations) and the WWTPs (the “Sewer System”), which were formerly owned and operated by the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County, and the New Hanover County Water and Sewer District.  Cape Fear’s water and sewer systems are located in the southeastern corner of North Carolina and encompass the cities of Wilmington, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach.

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Cape Fear and the other defendants violated Section 301 of the Clean Water Act and the terms and conditions of their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.  The defendants’ alleged violations include numerous Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) and effluent violations between 2007 and 2011, as a result of failures to properly operate and maintain the sewer collection system.

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Injunctive Relief

The proposed Consent Decree will require Cape Fear to implement injunctive relief within approximately two years from entry of the Consent Decree with the goal of eliminating SSOs. Specifically, the remedial actions in the proposed Consent Decree consist of completing capital projects and implementing certain Management, Operations and Maintenance (MOM) programs.  The capital projects include the Northeast Interceptor Northside Force Main Project and the Northeast Interceptor (NEI) Rehabilitation Phase 2. The MOM programs to be implemented include:

  • An Inter-Jurisdictional Agreement Program, under which new agreements to accept wastewater that the Authority signs with municipal satellite sewer systems must provide for proper management, operation and maintenance of those systems and also compliance with the CWA pretreatment program requirements.
  • A Continuing Sewer System Assessment Program and a Continuing Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program, which will provide for the evaluation and rehabilitation of the collection system.

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Pollutant Reductions

  • TSS – 127 pounds per year
  • BOD – 122 pounds per year
  • COD – 305 pounds per year
  • Total Nitrogen – 20 pounds per year
  • Total Phosphorus – 3 pounds per year

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Health and Environmental Effect

  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS) – TSS indicates the measure of suspended solids in wastewater, effluent or water bodies. High levels of TSS in a water body can diminish the amount of light that penetrates the water column and reduce photosynthesis and the production of oxygen. 
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) – BOD is an indirect measure of the biologically degradable material present in organic wastes. High BOD means there is an abundance of biologically degradable material that will consume oxygen from the water during the degradation process. It may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive. 
  • Nutrients - Excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waters can produce harmful algal blooms. These blooms contribute to the creation of hypoxia or “dead zones” in water bodies where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive.

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Civil Penalty

The defendants will pay a total of $300,000 to the United States as a civil penalty for the Clean Water Act violations.  The penalty in this case was derived according to the Clean Water Act Settlement Penalty Policy.        

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State Partner

The State of North Carolina was named as a necessary party to the proposed Consent Decree pursuant to Section 309(e) of the CWA, which requires the state in which a municipality is located to be joined as a party whenever the municipality is a party to a civil action brought by the United States.

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Comment Period

Once the proposed consent decree is lodged with the Court, the settlement will be subject to a 30-day public comment period. 

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For more information, contact

Robert D. Fentress
Water Enforcement Division
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (Mail Code 2243A)
Washington, DC  20460
(202) 564-7023
Robert D. Fentress (

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