March 1, 2010
The storm season marches on
By Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Aggregate producers — particularly sand and gravel operators — are being flooded by regulatory scrutiny over their storm water management processes. Why? Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the third year of a three-year enforcement initiative, has found that almost 40 percent of inspected sites are out of compliance. As a result, the EPA is extending its timetable and will continue inspections to make sure that operators have developed and maintained effective Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP) at their sites.
If you haven’t had the EPA or state Department of Environmental Quality knock on your door yet, be prepared. The agency’s focus on ready-mixed concrete and aggregate operations has resulted in numerous fines to producers throughout the nation, including one company that paid a whopping $2.75 million civil penalty.
To avoid forking over unnecessary fines, make sure you know your compliance obligations. If you produce construction sand and gravel, crushed or broken stone, or rip rap, and discharge storm water from an industrial activity into the waters of the United States or a municipal sewer system, you must have a storm water permit. In addition, a site-specific SWPPP should be developed, signed, implemented, and located on site for regulatory review.
A common problem spotted during inspections is not having a local employee who is familiar with the SWPPP, particularly with companies experiencing high turnover or staff reductions. At least one on-site employee must be familiar with the storm water program and have access to pertinent paperwork. Proper filing is also a concern because inspection and monitoring records are not always kept with the SWPPP. Records of routine site inspections, visual assessments, or monitoring results should be kept with the SWPPP and be available for review, and employees — including contractors — should be trained on all aspects of the storm water management plan.
Steps also can be taken to avoid the need for the permit. For example, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency addressed the issue of wash water discharges in sand and gravel operations and noted, “Often, operators can recycle their wash water and/or allow it to infiltrate the pit floor, and avoid the need for wash water overflows and other discharges. This may change their requirement to have a permit.” Another best management practice is to use good sump management to prevent the accumulation of dirty water in quarry pits, and even using the pit water for dust control on haul roads. Good housekeeping also goes a long way toward eliminating storm water concerns.
Before a regulator shows up at your site, do a self inspection. Review your SWPPP and get all records in order. Make sure your staff knows its responsibilities. By investing some time and energy, you can save yourself unnecessary aggravation when Uncle Sam comes knocking.