Holyoke, federal officials reach settlement over sewage discharges into Connecticut River

Several agencies have entered into a settlement agreement with the city of Holyoke in hopes of fixing an ongoing sewage issue.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 3:23 PM EDT
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HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- With heavy rain, sewage problems may arise in Holyoke. That’s why the city has now entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and others to remediate these issues.

The D.O.J., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have entered into a settlement agreement with the city of Holyoke in hopes of fixing an ongoing sewage issue. The proposed consent decree calls for the city to take further action to reduce ongoing sewage discharges into the Connecticut River from the city’s sewer collection and stormwater systems.

Currently, the systems cannot handle heavy rain, causing raw sewage and untreated water to be dumped into the river, which is a violation of both state and federal law and a major water pollution concern.

The city has already taken steps in recent years to address this issue including a long-term overflow control plan, separating sewers, and eliminating overflows in the concerned Jackson Street area. The consent decree detailed that the city will conduct sampling of its storm sewer discharges, work to remove illicit connections, and take other actions, which are all estimated to cost about $27 million.

Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia released a statement regarding the settlement that read, in part:

“This is not a new problem. This is what the state of Massachusetts calls a ‘legacy problem of early infrastructure.’ Many communities are dealing with the same issue and it’s always expensive because it requires redesign and upgrade. The problem isn’t new but what is new is the willingness of the federal and state governments to provide Holyoke with breathing room so that we can come up with a permanent fix to this decades’ old problem.”

The consent decree also imposes a $50,000 penalty on the city for previous permit violations.

In a statement, assistant attorney general Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division said:

“Today’s settlement will significantly reduce pollution in the Connecticut River and improve water quality for the Holyoke Community.”

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and then it will be up for approval by the federal court.