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Newport tightens safety after second sludge spill in Clyde River

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NEWPORT –– Newport City officials are responding to two recent untreated sludge discharges at the Newport City Wastewater Treatment Facility with new safety protocols aimed at preventing future incidents. The most recent overflow earlier this week has prompted swift action and a public alert from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

“We are hugely disappointed to hear that we have experienced a second leak of sludge into the Clyde River – the first occurred just two months ago,” said Mayor Linda Joy Sullivan.

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The latest incident involved an unattended valve left open during a sludge transfer, resulting in an estimated 10,000 gallons of untreated sludge escaping. This overflow occurred when a city employee was called away during the transfer process, and the situation went unnoticed for approximately 30 minutes. The incident mirrors a previous overflow a few weeks prior, caused by the same issue.

Jason Herman, the facility’s chief operator, confirmed that these incidents are becoming more frequent and highlighted the city’s efforts to prevent further occurrences. The city has initiated the removal of sludge from a ditch using a pump truck and has issued a public advisory against swimming in the affected water as a precautionary measure.

Mayor Sullivan also expressed concerns about the repeated incidents.

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“We do not have all of the facts, but we will soon. Initial indications suggest that there was again an instance of human error involving a shut off valve. We have been working with State environmental authorities to identify the cause and to remediate the spill,” she said.

City Manager Jonathan DeLaBruere has proposed the purchase of an alarm system and an automatic valve to address the problem, with an estimated cost of $30,000. However, the City Council has not yet reviewed any authorizations of contracts for the valve or the funding. This will be addressed in the council meeting next Monday, where a full discussion is scheduled.

Until the new systems are in place, Herman has instructed employees not to leave valves open unattended. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has also requested Herman to draft a formal procedure detailing the plant’s operating protocols.

“Speaking personally, this coming on the heels of a leak only 8 weeks ago troubles me greatly,” Sullivan added. “The City Council will be looking into whether the City’s internal procedures and training are adequate to reasonably prevent a reoccurrence. If they are not, changes will be made.”

Mayor Sullivan spoke with the Commissioner of Vermont Environmental Conservation about appropriate first steps for compliance and training. This discussion has been added to the next council agenda. In addition, the Mayor and the President of the Council, Chris Vachon, are planning to host a community forum to bring the public up to date on these issues.

Despite the recent incidents, DeLaBruere stated that no disciplinary action will be taken against the employees involved. However, he stressed the importance of addressing these issues to prevent future occurrences.

“As we all know, our community depends deeply on the quality of our waterways and natural resources, and this latest incident requires close and immediate investigation,” Sullivan emphasized. “What we need to know, among other things, is whether our internal systems are inadequate and whether we are appropriately prioritizing the protection of our natural resources.”

As investigations continue to determine the exact amount of sludge released and whether any reached the Clyde River, Newport City is prioritizing the implementation of these new safety measures to protect its residents and environment.

1 Comment

  1. The solution is to add sensors and automatic shutoffs as it is quite obvious the help available is either too simple-minded to follow basic operational procedures or just doesn’t care. The plan should be to eliminate any recurrence, not acknowledge and move on with promises to try to do better.
    The first time, sludge happens.
    The second time, especially within weeks of each other, shows an obvious disregard for procedures and disrespect for management.
    When you are dealing with any contaminated materials that promote sickness, and both short and long-term illness for an entire city, nothing short of an immediate termination should be considered. You don’t put them somewhere they “can’t hurt anybody”, that’s most likely how the deficient operator got the position.

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