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Gloucester to save $3 million under new agreement with EPA

A new agreement between Gloucester, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the state will allow the city to perform work more efficiently and save approximately $3 million as it continues to upgrade its water and sewer facilities.

The agreement modifies a 2005 consent decree that called for the city to separate its waste water and storm water, which often flowed into the harbor during heavy storms. Until 2005, the city had one pipe that carried storm water and sewage to its waste-water treatment plant. During heavy storms, the pipe reached capacity and in order to keep the system from backing up, a release trigger opened automatically, causing untreated waste to spill from designated spouts into the ocean harbor on a regular basis.

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Before the decree, the city had been in violation of the federal Clean Water Act, which prohibits untreated waste to be discharged into the ocean.

Over the last seven years, the city has spent more than $30 million to help fix the problem, and the new agreement allows workers to do parts of the job — which include separating waste-water and storm-water pipes in the downtown — in a different order, saving time and money.

“We are pleased that the city of Gloucester will be taking steps necessary to protect its historic harbor and beaches,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a prepared statement. “These measures are crucially important as we work to ensure that our waters continue to be an invaluable resource for our coastal communities and the Commonwealth.”

‘We are pleased that the city of Gloucester will be taking steps necessary to protect its historic harbor and beaches. . . . our waters continue to be an invaluable resource.’

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Mayor Carolyn Kirk said the city has been negotiating for three years to modify the agreement, because it realized the work could be done more efficiently and save money. Kirk said the city is meeting all of its commitments just by reshuffling the work schedule.

“It boiled down to saving us $3 million on the project that we can divert to other important water projects,” said Kirk.

The new agreement calls for the city to finish separating the waste and storm water in its downtown and surrounding neighborhoods by 2015. It also mandates that Gloucester complete upgrades to its waste-water treatment plant by 2013.

Mike Hale, Gloucester’s public works director, said both projects are on schedule. He said the city plans to spend $20 million to repair and renovate its treatment plant. He also said at least half of that work has been completed. By next year, the plant – which separates solids and liquids – will have new pumps and motors, and an additional building, Hale said.

Until the plant was built in the early 1980s, all of Gloucester waste and storm water flowed directly into Gloucester Harbor. After the plant was constructed, all water flowed in a single pipe to the treatment facility.

According to Hale, the city has had just two overflows into the ocean in the last 36 months.

One occurred in July, and the other in 2010. Hale said a centerpiece of the $35 million total project is a new stormwater pipe that was constructed downtown, runs along the ocean floor, and discharges the water about 250 yards off the coast.

He also said the city has installed flow meters to measure and monitor the water frequency and discharge into the harbor. Hale is also working with crews to close up some relief points along the coast where water has overflowed during heavy rains.

Hale said the $3 million would go toward ongoing and planned water projects that will cost the city another $30 million.Work is almost complete on renovating the city’s water filtration plants at Babson Reservoir, West Gloucester, and on a water tower at the Plum Cove School. In addition, the city is constructing a new downtown water main, adding water pipes under the Blyman Bridge, and repairing its water facilities at Blackburn Industrial Park and on Bond Hill.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.

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