Environmental Appeals Board Affirms Newmarket Clean Water Act Permit

Jeff Barnum


The effects of too much nitrogen in Great Bay: This eelgrass bed had 100% coverage in 2012.
Photo credit: Dr. Fred Short 2013

As we have reported in the past, reducing nitrogen pollution from sewage treatment plants is an essential and urgently needed step toward restoring the health of the Great Bay estuary. I’m pleased to report an important decision that will keep the estuary on the path to recovery: the Environmental Appeals Board’s affirmation of a Clean Water Act permit requiring significant nitrogen pollution reductions from Newmarket’s outdated sewage treatment plant.

The story starts a year ago, in December 2012, when the EPA issued a permit – based on multiple factors demonstrating the ravaging effects of nitrogen pollution in the estuary – that establishes a stringent limit on the amount of nitrogen pollution that can be discharged from the Newmarket sewage treatment plant into the Lamprey River (and downstream, to Great Bay). In what could be called a tale of two cities, the release of this permit prompted very different responses by municipal officials.

On the one hand, the Town of Newmarket – the town with the most at stake – set off down the responsible path of solving the nitrogen pollution problem. First, Newmarket officials made the decision not to appeal the permit. Next, Newmarket voters took the important step of voting – overwhelmingly – to support a bond to fund the upgrade of its sewage treatment plant.

On the other hand, a group of towns calling themselves the Municipal Coalition (comprised of Dover, Rochester and Portsmouth) filed an appeal on behalf of Dover and Rochester, challenging the Newmarket permit and its strict limits on pollution. The towns leveled argument after argument at EPA, calling into question the science EPA had relied upon (including a Great Bay nitrogen analysis prepared by the N.H. Department of Environmental Services) and the procedures EPA had followed. Now, nearly a year after the towns filed their appeal, the Environmental Appeals Board, has issued a decision roundly rejecting those arguments and throwing out the appeal.

According to the judges deciding the matter, “the record provides substantial support for the scientific validity of the [N.H. Department of Environmental Services’] Great Bay Nutrient Report and the [EPA’s] consideration of that report” in setting a water quality target for the permit. The judges further noted: “While the record contains comments from the [Municipal] Coalition and its consultants that are critical of the State’s conclusions, the vast majority of the expert evaluations in the record are supportive of the State’s methodology or conclusions.”

The decision affirms what scientists have been saying for years – there’s too much nitrogen pollution in the estuary. And, importantly, it creates a clear path for finally reducing that pollution to protect our waters.

Having actively engaged in the permitting process for the Newmarket sewage treatment plant, we at CLF are pleased to have participated in the Municipal Coalition’s appeal by countering many of the arguments made by the Coalition and reinforcing the need for nitrogen pollution reductions.

More importantly, we’re pleased that the Municipal Coalition’s appeal, having been rejected, will not obstruct Newmarket as it continues on its path to helping clean up the estuary. And we can only hope that after the significant dollars invested by the Municipal Coalition in fighting the requirements of the Clean Water Act, those towns will redirect and redouble their efforts where they belong – cleaning up our waters for a healthy Great Bay.

Find  more information about the Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper and my work to protect the Great Bay estuary, You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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