Agencies make an example of McCook water

Thursday, March 3, 2005

McCook is finally on the way to s0lving its water and sewer problems. But action didn't come soon enough for federal and state agencies, who Wednesday announced that a settlement with McCook had been filed in federal court in Omaha.

McCook residents had already received word of the settlement, but with the court filing in Omaha the news went out to media outlets throughout the state and region. Assuring that was the U.S. Environmental Agency in Washington, which issued news releases revealing terms of the settlement.

The settlement contains stipulations that McCook pay penalties of $225,000. That includes $136,000 for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and $89,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act. The United States and the state of Nebraska will each receive a portion of the payment.

Over and above all the penalty money, the city is having to make massive improvements to its water and sewer systems. That work, in progress, has an estimated price tag of $17 million. Not only that, but the work is on a strict timetable, with the city hurrying to meet a March 2006 deadline for completion of the water treatment plant, and an October 2006 deadline for completion of the sewer work.

McCook is also paying a big price in other ways. Because of excessive ammonia in the waste water discharged into the Republican River, McCook is being allowed to make very few additional sewer connections. Now, all permits must be cleared with the state, and, in the past few months, permits for new homes and new commercial enterprises have been turned down. Unless exceptions are granted by the state, the building shutdown will continue until the waste water system is back in compliance.

It's past the point of debating what's right or wrong, or what's fair or unfair. It is clear, however, that McCook is being made an example of by environmental agencies. When looking into the matter, McCook city officials heard of only one other first class city in the state which had been seriously questioned for environmental issues, and that case was never made public. Nationwide, McCook officials have learned of only five similar cases.

State and federal agencies have shown their power ... and clout. Now it's time that they help rather than hinder, giving McCook full cooperation in helping to meet compliance deadlines.

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