According to a VTDigger report, “A faulty valve in Burlington’s wastewater treatment plant last week led to the release of more than 7 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into Lake Champlain. Operators say the discharge also included some partially treated sewage.”

The report didn’t offer any discussion of the penalty the City of Burlington will be expected to pay for this shocking environmental insult. But we can provide an estimate, on the assumption that Burlington will be treated the same as, say, Lyndon.

In July 1989 a hundred-year rainstorm hit our area. One unhappy result was that Lyndon’s storm and sanitary sewer system was overrun by the flood, and four tons (8,000 pounds) of mixed effluent flowed through the plant into the Passumpsic River.

The environmental enforcers in Montpelier were shocked, and sprang into action. They levied a fine of $60,000 on the Town of Lyndon. That would amount to about $120,000 in today’s dollars, or $15/pound.

So now we have Burlington discharging 7,000,000 gallons of “partially treated” wastewater into Lake Champlain. There are 8.34 pounds per gallon, so the discharge adds up to 58,000,000 pounds. At the $15/pound rate charged against Lyndon, the fine against Burlington should come to $870 million.

Let’s be charitable, and say that the “partial treatment ” provided by the Burlington plant before the discharge into the Lake justifies a 50% penalty discount. Then the fine, discounted to $7.50/pound, should cost Burlington $435 million.

Will the state’s environmental enforcers levy that fine on Burlington? We doubt it. More likely, the state will admonish Burlington to be more careful with its plumbing in the future. Lyndon should have been so lucky.

In fairness, we should disclose that back then the State didn’t collect the $60,000 fine. Instead Lyndon was required to spend $60,000 on water treatment improvements. We don’t see Vermont asking Burlington to spend $435 million on system upgrades.

We might have to hold our nose standing on the Queen City’s shores but we won’t hold our breath that the state will treat Burlington the way it did Lyndon.

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