Siler City fined $36K for polluted waterways

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SILER CITY — Siler City, whose chronic water quality violations have cost taxpayers $239,000 over the past six years, has been penalized another $36,000 by state regulators, recent documents show.

The first penalty, for $20,000 stems from violations that occurred in May 2022. That’s when Siler City’s wastewater treatment plant discharged total nitrogen, which includes nitrites and ammonia, at levels 159% above permitted limits into Loves Creek, a tributary of the Rocky River. The source of the nitrogen and ammonia is the Mountaire poultry slaughter plant, which sends its wastewater to the plant in western Chatham County.

Facility operators also failed to properly monitor discharge entering the plant for nitrogen and iron.

Half of the penalty amount was for “failing to mitigate conditions” at the plant that allowed the violations to occur, according to a letter sent by the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality on Dec. 1.

DEQ fined Siler City another $16,000 for exceeding nitrogen limits in June 2022, and, as occurred in May, for failure to mitigate plant conditions.

In just the last two years, DEQ has fined Siler City more than $154,000 related to these and other violations. The plant has been designated by the EPA as a “significant non-complier.” The plant has logged more than 80 violations since 2019.

Siler City’s inability to rein in its pollutants jeopardizes its economic opportunities. DEQ has already imposed a statutory moratorium on new sewer hookups until regulators determine the plant can handle the additional demand.

And the load is coming: In September, on the same day that Wolfspeed announced it would build a new silicon carbide factory in Siler City, bringing with it 1,800 new jobs, the town applied with DEQ for a Special Order by Consent, also known as an SOC.

SOCs are legal agreements between the state and a facility that can’t meet their permit requirements. Under an SOC, a facility is still required to eventually comply, but is often given additional time to do so, with benchmarks along the way.

Before an SOC is issued, state regulators must open a public comment period; that has not occurred.

The town also asked DEQ to lift the moratorium to accommodate Wolfspeed, which would discharge wastewater to the plant. Improvements to the facility are 18 months behind schedule but should be complete by January 2025. DEQ is reviewing the town’s request but has not announced whether it would grant it.

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