Saxony gets DNR letter over sewer lagoon

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Saxony Lutheran High School principal Dr. Craig Ernstmeyer says a miscommunication is to blame for the school's failure to file a report with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources concerning its wastewater treatment lagoons.

The school received a letter of warning from the DNR earlier this month after an inspection Aug. 24 indicated violations and the DNR still did not have the required report.

DNR officials required Saxony to secure a professional engineer to evaluate whether the clay seal in its lagoon was working properly and submit a report after receiving a complaint from a neighboring landowner concerned about possible groundwater contamination in the fall of 2010.

While this report was due Jan. 1, 2011, DNR spokeswoman Renee Bungart said Monday the report, which was to include the engineer's findings and repair recommendations, has not yet been turned in.

Ernstmeyer said the evaluation was completed in the fall of 2010, but there was a miscommunication between him and the engineer about submitting the report to the DNR.

"We have had it inspected, we completed it and now we have found out it wasn't submitted," he said.

It will be turned in to the DNR by the end of this month, he added.

The report was required to address the condition of the school's three-chamber lagoon system and its ability to collect and treat wastewater.

During the Aug. 24 inspection, DNR officials observed that one cell did not have enough water to cover the bottom and the other two cells were completely dry. The system was designed to outflow into an unnamed tributary of Hubble Creek, but inspection reports dating back to 2007 indicate there has been no outflow. There is no record of discharge and sludge has never been hauled away from the facility, according to the DNR.

The low water level in Saxony's lagoons could indicate its clay liner is leaking, according to inspection reports. If a lagoon cell becomes dry or vegetation is allowed to grow in it, the clay liner will crack and allow wastewater to seep through, the DNR inspector said in the report.

While wastewater seepage has the potential to contaminate groundwater, the school does not get water from a well on its property. Instead, it is served by a public water supply district.

The system was designed for a population of 105 and a flow of 10,500 gallons a day, says the most recent letter sent by the DNR to Saxony. The school has about 200 students currently.

A series of DNR inspections dating back to March 2007 describe the lagoon system at various times as being in "poor condition" with "unsatisfactory" water depth and maintenance of weeds and shrubs in and around the lagoons. Two of the three lagoon cells had little or no water in them, according to DNR inspection reports in 2007, 2009 and 2012. The most recent resident complaint, filed in October 2010, concerning Saxony's lagoons was made by nearby property owner Joe Hoffmeister, who sold a large amount of land adjacent to the school to quarry developers. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Saxony has been locked in a legal battle with the DNR concerning permits awarded to quarry developers near the school, even while the DNR was working with the school on potential violations from its lagoons.

As a condition of the school's wastewater treatment system operating permit issued by the DNR in February 2010, it was required to follow a "schedule of compliance" to remedy the violations. Within one year of the date the permit was issued, the school was to submit an engineering report, within two years it was to submit a construction permit application and within three years the school is to complete improvements to get its system into compliance with state regulations.

Ernstmeyer said this fall school officials will focus on considering the alternatives and completing a plan for repairs within the timeline specified by the DNR.

"It's too early at this point to say what those might be," he said.

When asked if he was concerned about the cost of these measures, he said he had not yet seen any estimates.

A letter of warning is the first step in the DNR's enforcement process; fines are the last.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

County Road 601, Fruitland, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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