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March 24. 2012 11:37PM

5 communities sue over water treatment rules

CONCORD — Five Seacoast area communities are collectively suing New Hampshire over new wastewater treatment guidelines they say would cost them more than $100 million.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Merrimack Superior Court, the towns claim the state Department of Environmental Services tried to introduce new criteria for nitrogen levels, algae growth and water clarity for tidal waters of the Great Bay Estuary, but skipped the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, which calls for the state to provide notice to affected parties, prepare potential financial impact statements and hold public hearings before enacting new rules.

Dover, Portsmouth, Rochester, Exeter and Newmarket joined to sue the state. They ask for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief from the rules.

“If these unlawful and unreasonable regulatory actions are not declared invalid, the Petitioners will be forced to spend more than $100,000,000 in (public works) improvements that are unnecessary to preserve the health of the Estuary,” according to the suit.

Spokesman Jim Martin said the DES received a copy of the lawsuit on Friday, but he would not comment on pending litigation. He said the matter would be referred to the Attorney General's Office.

The suit contends the DES implemented the new criteria for the estuary in 2009 based on the “assumption of a causal relationship” between nitrogen concentrations, the growth of phytoplankton and “the impact of these factors on water clarity and the health of the eelgrass resource.”

The communities would have to make major modifications to treatment plants to be able to treat water to remove nitrogen to the levels required by the DES, the suit said.

The suit says the new criteria “are demonstrably unreasonable and not founded upon sound science” and “contain effluent limitations that are overly stringent and not necessary to protect the environmental health of the Great Bay Estuary.”


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