Settlement with UI over '02 fish kill finalized
URBANA – Six years after an ammonia spill killed 100,000 fish in the Salt Fork, the final piece of a legal settlement is in place.
The University of Illinois, its cleaning contractor CEDA Inc. and the Urbana and Champaign Sanitary District will pay the state a total of $65,000, and agreed to change procedures for disposing of wastewater, to resolve a water pollution complaint filed by the Illinois attorney general's office in 2002.
In July of that year, the UI hired CEDA to clean boilers at Abbott Power Plant and arranged for thousands of gallons of wastewater to be discharged into the sanitary district's treatment system. But the wastewater contained such a high concentration of ammonia, and was released so quickly, that it was impossible to treat before it was discharged into the Saline Branch Drainage Ditch and the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River.
More than 100,000 fish died along 42 miles of waterway, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The consent order filed in Champaign County Circuit Court last week ordered the university and CEDA to dispose of wastewater containing cleaning chemicals only at approved hazardous waste facilities, not the sanitary sewer system.
Before each boiler cleaning, the university and CEDA must also submit a waste management plan identifying any hazardous substance and how the wastes will be disposed. The wastes cannot be transported until written laboratory results confirm they are acceptable to the disposal facility.
The court also ordered the sanitary district to require anyone planning occasional discharges of wastewater to identify all hazardous substances and their expected concentrations before authorizing the release.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will monitor compliance, said Scott Mulford, spokesman for the attorney general's office. The $65,000 will go into the state's Environmental Protection Trust Fund, which pays for environmental education and investigations of environmental complaints, he said.
The defendants have already paid the federal government $450,000 for natural resource restoration projects in the Saline Branch and Salt Fork watersheds, plus $41,000 for expenses, under an October 2007 settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the state attorney general's office.
"Accidents like this illustrate why it is absolutely mandatory that proper procedures are followed when undertaking such a significant project," Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a release. "Environmentalists and the state are still working diligently to restore aquatic life to what it was in these waterways."
UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the UI was "pleased" to work with governmental agencies to put together a plan to preserve the Salt Fork.
"We certainly wish that it hadn't happened, and we're glad we have plans in place to prevent it from happening again," Kaler said.