DEC fines Bethlehem for mercury spills

The Department of Environmental Conservation has fined the town of Bethlehem $15,000 for mercury and petroleum reporting and handling violations that occurred over the past two years.

However, Supervisor Jack Cunningham said the town only consented to the fine because it couldn't prove that less than a pound of mercury had been discharged in a single spill at its water plant.

By paying the $15,000 and remaining compliant, the town does not have to pay an additional $60,000 civil penalty to the DEC, according to the state's signed consent order, which stated the fine could have totaled $75,000.

"As soon as I was made aware of this situation, we did everything appropriate to mitigate the issue," Cunningham said. "You don't win anything by fighting this stuff."

The town is now replacing all of its outdated mercury flow meters.

The DEC said three separate investigations took place at Bethlehem's New Salem Road plant, spokeswoman Maureen Wren said in February.

The investigations dealt with two mercury spills, one that occurred on Jan. 18 of this year, another from July 2006, and the removal of an underground fuel-oil tank " all in or around the town's New Scotland plant.

The fuel tank was taken from the ground on town-owned property near the plant.

Cunningham questioned why the DEC suddenly announced Bethlehem was paying the fine when the incident had already been hashed out months ago.

"We don't know why all of a sudden the DEC issued a release on this," Cunningham said. "We have voluntarily replaced the meters. These flow meters are being used all across New York state, and the DEC has not required any of them to be replaced."

Rick Georgeson, a DEC spokesman for Region 4, responded through Spotlight Newspapers, saying, "The consent order was just signed this week. It took a while to conduct the investigation."

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