Legal wrangling continues over wastewater discharge at mill site
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 11:48
by Nicole Rodman

    Earlier this month, news broke that Hanover, Md.-based Redwood Capital Investments was in talks to acquire a large portion of the former Sparrows Point steel mill site.
    The mill, which closed in June 2012, was purchased by liquidator Hilco Industrial and redeveloper Environmental Liability Transfer the following August.
    News of the potential sale came to light after lawyers for ELT-owned Sparrows Point LLC sought an extension of a  court order allowing treated wastewater (effluent) from the Baltimore City-owned Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant to continue being discharged through pipelines at the former mill site.
    Under the current arrangement, which Sparrows Point LLC seeks to extend until October, the city pays the mill owners $105,000 per month to pump the effluent through the mill site.
    Opened in 1911, the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant is designed to handle 180 million gallons of wastewater per day. The plant serves approximately 1.3 million residents in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
    While much of the plant’s effluent is returned to Back River, approximately 40 percent travels through two six-mile long pipes to Sparrows Point, where it is eventually discharged into nearby waterways.
    The arrangement began in 1941 and was, until 2012, mutually beneficial for both the mill and the city.
    Prior to its closure, the mill used the effluent as a coolant during steelmaking.
    For the city, diverting some effluent from Back River to be discharged elsewhere is necessary to meet federal regulations.
    “The state of Maryland took that flow diversion into consideration in successive issuances of our National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits,” Jeffrey Raymond, spokesman for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, explained.
    Part of the federal Clean Water Act, NPDES requires any municipal or commercial facility discharging waste or stormwater into a body of water to obtain a permit. NPDES permits are issued by the states.
    Without diverting some of their effluent to Sparrows Point, the city would be unable to meet the conditions of its NPDES permit. Violating the terms of a NPDES permit can lead to large fines.
    While the arrangement was once mutually beneficial, with the closure of the mill, the current owners have no use for the wastewater.
    Initially, the mill site owners agreed to allow the city to continue pumping effluent through Sparrows Point at a cost of $80,000 per month.
    In July 2013, the owners sought to end the arrangement, alleging that the city had fallen behind on payments.
    Last October, the city won a court order temporarily extending the agreement.
    A month later, the mill site owners and the city agreed to a new arrangement. The city would pay $105,000 per month to pump effluent through Sparrows Point for the next 10 months.
    It was this arrangement that Sparrows Point LLC sought to extend to October in court documents filed earlier this month.
    While effluent continues to flow to Sparrows Point for now, the future of the arrangement remains uncertain.
    “The city is exploring a number of options, but in the meantime will continue to send flow to Sparrows Point,” Raymond said.
    Baltimore Brew reported last October that the city retained local engineering and architectural firm Whitman, Requardt & Associates to “review alternatives for future discharge to the Patapsco River from the treatment plant.”
    It is also unclear if prospective new owner Redwood Capital Investments would allow the arrangement to continue, as the current system could potentially impact redevelopment of the site.
    “We are aware of the pending change in ownership of the property and we have held conversations with the prospective owner,” Raymond said.
    For now, the future of both the former Sparrows Point steel mill site and its effluent pipeline remain largely uncertain.