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December 12. 2012 8:25PM

Exeter officials consider appealing EPA wastewater permit

EXETER - Officials are weighing their options after the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued its wastewater discharge permit to the town Wednesday with stricter limits on the amount of nitrogen that can be sent into the Great Bay estuary by wastewater treatment plants.

The town now has 30 days to decide whether it will appeal the permit.

Town Manager Russ Dean said the town "acknowledged receipt" of the permit, but he didn't indicate whether an appeal would be filed.

"We are now going to undergo the process of review of the permit and its contents. After that process is complete, the board of selectmen will make a final determination of the town's next steps," he said.

After months of discussions about the more stringent discharge rules proposed last year, EPA set the new nitrogen discharge limit at 3 milligrams per liter. It's the same number originally proposed by EPA that sparked harsh criticism from Exeter and other affected towns because of the millions it could cost in wastewater treatment plant upgrades to meet the new limit.

EPA pushed for lower limits after arguing that the 20 to 30 milligrams per liter of nitrogen now being discharged from the treatment plants are significantly reducing eelgrass and oyster populations in the estuary.

Exeter's plant discharges into the Squamscott River, a tributary to the Great Bay estuary. The EPA said that while runoff from pavement and fertilized land sent more nitrogen into the river, the wastewater treatment plant discharge contains a particularly potent form of nitrogen.

"We expect to see a major improvement in water quality in the Squamscott River and beyond as a result of today's action," EPA said in a prepared statement.

EPA said the town will be able to phase in the improvements to its wastewater treatment plant to help control costs.

Representatives from Dover, Portsmouth, Rochester and the Great Bay Municipal Coalition, which includes the three cities and Exeter and Newmarket, testified against EPA's proposal at a congressional hearing held in Exeter in June.

At that time, they said they were willing to reduce nitrogen discharge, but said they felt a limit of 3 milligrams was too extreme.

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at jschreiber@newstote.com.


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