Fort Smith Officials Meet With Feds About Alleged Clean Water Act Violations

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FORT SMITH (KFSM) – Fort Smith city leaders met with federal officials Thursday in Dallas to continue negotiations, after the Environmental Protection Agency threatened to file a lawsuit against the city because of alleged Clean Water Act violations, according to the Arkansas Attorney General’s office.

The talks come less than two months after negotiations initially broke down between the EPA and Fort Smith administrators concerning constant sewage overflow issues in the city. Environmental officials said those overflows during episodes of heavy rainfall represented neglect by the city to fix a decades-old sanitation system problem.

Fort Smith officials prepared in late September and October for a federal lawsuit that never came. Negotiations later picked back up between the two entities, and now city leaders say they are doing everything they can to stay in compliance with the federal law.

A representative for the city of Fort Smith said local leaders cannot release what was discussed at the meeting. A spokesman for the attorney general confirmed the meeting took place Thursday in Dallas.

City administrators have been working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency over the last eight years in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

The wet weather overflows of sewage are caused by rainwater entering the sewer system through defected manholes and underground pipes. The rainwater overwhelms the capacity of the sewer system, causing untreated sewage to overflow from the system, according to the city.

By committing $200 million to solve the problem, the city has reduced the number of wet weather overflows by 79 percent. The city also has $30 million in construction either under way or upcoming, officials said.

City administrator Ray Gosack released the following statement Oct. 2, when local officials believed a lawsuit was imminent:

“Regardless of the pending litigation, the city of Fort Smith remains steadfast in its work to address the decades-old problems with its sanitary sewer system. We’ve made substantial progress and will continue our efforts…Our goal is to be in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act and to provide safe and environmentally responsible sanitary sewer services to our 87,000 residents and thousands of businesses.”

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