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Photo: Jacob Hartje

Arnegard needs to clean up sewage mess

By Lauren Donovan

A first-ever agreement for a private company to handle a city’s wastewater may be unraveling even as both sides face fines and penalties from the North Dakota Health Department.

The small city of Arnegard remains under an informal moratorium against any more hookups to its sewage system, after Arnegard Holdings took over, damaged and illegally used the city’s wastewater lagoon then promised to build a new one to serve both the town and the company’s own man camp near Arnegard.

It was hailed as an innovative public-private partnership out in the oil patch where communities are hard pressed to build new infrastructure fast enough to keep up with growth.

Today, the company has neither completed the project, nor does it have an approved plan. It is hauling its man camp waste to Watford City, while the town of Arnegard is temporarily using its old system, even though the lagoon liner is torn and leaking. Arnegard Holdings also has an open pit of sewage sludge at its Lodge 85 man camp from when it illegally operated the city’s system and hauled waste there.

Karl Rockeman, who heads the department’s pollution discharge program under the federal Clean Water Act, said the situation cannot continue and he is working out a consent agreement with the two parties. The consent will say how each will come into compliance with state sewage rules and assess the fines and penalties they’ll pay for their violations.

Rockeman said he expects to have the consent and penalties decided by the end of the month.

Far from being an oil boom prototype, Rockeman said based on discussions with the city, the agreement appears to be falling apart, but said, “I’m not taking a position on whether they should sever it.” It’s possible the city could make repairs and keep operating its own system, he said.

Arnegard Mayor Virginia Elliot refused to talk to the Tribune and tried to prevent any publicity when the violations came to light last spring.

Contacted for this story, she said, “I’m not going to tell you anything,” and hung up.

No on answered the published phone number for Arnegard Holdings.

Rockeman said both sides have different needs and Arnegard Holdings has not been easy to work with, partly because it didn’t obtain necessary permits.

He said the department pushed Arnegard Holdings and instead winter arrived without an approved treatment plan in place.

“That will factor into the penalty calculation. It will be substantial enough to point out the severity of them wrecking the city lagoon,” Rockeman said.

The notices of violation were served on the city and Arnegard Holdings last May.

The violations date back to October 2012, when the city signed over its public sewage system to Arnegard Holdings without making proper notification to the department.

Then, Arnegard Holdings allowed private companies to illegally dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste water directly into the lagoon, scraped sewage sludge from the lagoon cells thus damaging the cells, and hauled the sludge to the unpermitted pit out at the man camp.

Rockeman said company did finally receive an Environmental Protection Agency permit to spread the sewage sludge on cropland so it should be able to empty the pit this spring and summer.

Lodge 85 is required to have its own treatment facilities because it is licensed for more than 100 occupants. The facility is licensed for 130 people and had 96 occupants at its last full inspection in February.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.

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