Guilty plea in release of sewage

3:37 pm October 5th, 2012

The former operator of a wastewater treatment plant at Mount Rainier National Park admitted in federal court last Friday that  he allowed about 200,000 gallons of sewage that was’t fully treated to flow into the Nisqually River last year.

James Barber, 52, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act in August 2011.

The admmission was made in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in a plea agreement that requires Barber to give up his certification to operate wastewater facilities and to resign from the U.S. Park Service, said U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan.

Barber, a Yelm resisdent, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 14 by U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura.

According to authorities, Barber was an operator of the Paradise wastewater treatment plant in the park. It treats wastewater generated at the Paradise Visitor Center and Paradise Inn. The facility provides advanced secondary treatment of sewage before the waste is discharged into a drainage ditch that flows into a waterfall, which then flows into the Nisqually River.

In his plea agreement, Barber admitted that during the spring and summer last year, he failed to stop a buildup of solid waste in the plant.  The facility’s filters became clogged, preventing the treatment system from working properly, officials said.

Authorities said that instead of fixing the problem, Barber used a bypass around the advanced treatment and surge storage tank, which allowed “minimally treated sewage” to reach the waterfall and the river.

Paradise, which has a visitor center and a hotel, is the most popular destinationfor  the 1 million-plus annual visitors to the park. The spring and summer months are when visits peak.

Other terms of Barber’s plea include banning him from entering the park for five years. He also agrees not to seek employment in any job related to wastewater treatment for five years, and to never again seek certifications, licenses or permits related to wastewater or drinking-water treatment., according to authorities.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Criminal Investigations and National Park Service investigators.


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