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Oregon Regulators Fine Hauler for Sewage Dumping

by Tim Christie
Register-Guard, August 29, 2001

A rural-Eugene, Ore., septic-tank hauler thought he could save himself $90 by surreptitiously draining the contents of his tank truck into the city's sewage system.

But the sewage went into the stormwater system instead and straight into the Willamette River, and the hauler now faces thousands of dollars in fines from city and state regulators.

Gayne Holte, owner of Drain Free Septic Tank Cleaners, admitted Friday that he was at fault. "I'm just going to have to take responsibility," he said. "I know I was at fault. You can't really fight it." Holte said he was "low on funds" and wanted to save the $90 charge to dump his load at the city's wastewater treatment plant.

The city of Eugene has levied a $1,000 fine against Holte, which was due Thursday but hadn't yet been received, said Cary Kerst, a supervisor in the city's wastewater division.

The state Department of Environmental Quality cited Holte for discharging sewage at an unauthorized point, violating water quality standards, and polluting the state's waters, DEQ environmental specialist Bill Perry said.

The agency's enforcement section is reviewing the case and is likely to issue fines against Holte within three weeks, said Anne Price, enforcement manager. She wouldn't speculate on the amount except to say it would be at least $1,000.

The incident occurred Aug. 6, Kerst said, when a city public works maintenance worker noticed "black, foul-smelling material" draining from a large outfall pipe into the south side of the river near the Valley River bicycle bridge.

On his way back to the public works maintenance yard, the worker noticed a sewage truck at Holte Manufacturing. "He noticed some suspicious activity," Kerst said. "He thought he saw a hose coming from the back of the truck, which wouldn't be normal."

After reinspecting the outfall, the worker called a supervisor and police, who questioned Holte, who was driving the truck. Holte admitted that he dumped a load into what's called a clean-out pipe that morning, Kerst said.

Holte's tank truck holds 4,000 gallons, but Kerst said he didn't know how many gallons got into the stormwater system.

Holte thought the pipe was connected to the sanitary sewage system, which it should have been, but in fact it flowed into the stormwater system, Kerst said. "This system was cross-connected," he said. "It should have been connected to the sanitary system but it wasn't."

Such cross connections most likely date to the 1960s or 1970s, when the city of Eugene separated its stormwater and sewage systems. In some instances, old sewer connections into the stormwater system didn't get switched to the new sewage system, said Jeff Langston, public works maintenance director.

The property owner has been ordered to fix the problem, Kerst said.

No matter how the pipes are connected, it was illegal for Holte to be dumping sewage there, Kerst said. Septic haulers are required to dump their loads at the city's wastewater treatment plant, where they are charged nine cents per gallon to do so.

Holte said what he dumped was "just water." He said he'd been cleaning out a number of septic tanks in Veneta for homes that are being connected to sewer lines. The load he dumped came from a septic tank that had just been cleaned one month earlier, according to Holte. He added, "It was clean water."

Kerst said that's not true. "The crew that saw it coming out (of the pipe) said it was black and foulsmelling. We took a sample from the truck and the sample tested at 770,000 E. coli (bacteria) per 100 milliliters, which is really high," said Kerst. The state threshold for surface water is 406 E. coli per 100 milliliters.

Holte said the incident was the first and only time he had dumped sewage, but Kerst said Holte told city officials he had dumped sewage there before. "He didn't say how many previous occasions," Kerst said.

Tim Christie
Oregon Regulators Fine Hauler for Sewage Dumping
Register-Guard, August 29, 2001

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