Settlement Reached in Rhode Island Beach Pollution Lawsuit

January 29, 2010

The town of Middletown, Rhode Island agreed to settle a lawsuit that accused it of polluting prized state beaches by illegally discharging millions of gallons of sewage-laced wastewater.

The town, located just north of Newport on Aquidneck Island, agreed to take steps to end its sewage overflow and to address its discharges of stormwater pollution.

The agreement requires the approval of a judge and must be reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Newport-area beaches are among some of the most revered, treasured beaches in Rhode Island, if not all of New England,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment Rhode Island, which brought the lawsuit in 2008 along with four local residents. “There’s a lot at stake here.”

The town agreed to pay $25,000 to cover the costs of the lawsuit and will face penalties if it fails to comply with the settlement.

A separate lawsuit against the city of Newport is pending, and Rumpler said he hopes to resolve that case too.

The two beaches most affected are Easton’s Beach in Newport — near the popular Cliff Walk path — and the adjacent Atlantic Beach in Middletown.

The lawsuit said Middletown’s sewage system, when overburdened by heavy rain or snow melt, discharges sewage from a pump station into a channel that leads to the beaches.

Millions of gallons of sewage wastewater have been discharged in recent years, Rumpler said, and polluted stormwater runoff has been discharged directly into Easton’s Bay from two separate outfall pipes.

Gerald Petros, a lawyer for Middletown, said the town had been making improvements independent of the lawsuit.

“We’re not doing these things because of the lawsuit,” Petros said. “We were doing them before, would have done them anyway.”

The town said in a statement that it was pleased to settle the case and that it had already spent $13 million to fix a pump station and on related rehabilitation and renovation projects. It said it had not recorded a wastewater overflow discharge since last March.

“The proposed settlement incorporates and recognizes the town’s ongoing plans and commitments on these wastewater and storm water issues,” the statement said.

Rumpler said his complaint did not identify any person who was sickened by the contamination. But he said surfers are among those who would be most vulnerable since they tend to hit the waves right after a storm — when the pollution is often at its worst

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