Street sweeping resumes as the Borough awaits definitive guidelines

Street sweeping has resumed in Middletown after a delay caused by concerns regarding how the Borough disposes of material collected by the street sweeping operations.

Those concerns arose during the Borough’s recent Municipal Separate Stormwater System (MS4) permit renewal process. During that process, it came to the Borough’s attention there were issues with how it disposes of materials gathered by the street sweeper.

Street sweeping is an important part of efforts to reduce pollution draining into the Susquehanna River watershed. By sweeping streets, pollutants including sediment, litter, phosphorous, trace amounts of heavy metals, road salts and fecal coliform are removed, preventing them from running off into the Swatara Creek or the River during rain storms.

However, if not properly disposed of, those pollutants can still reach the watershed.

In Middletown, for as long as anyone can remember, debris from street sweeping was dumped in a pile at the area commonly referred to as the “dump” at the corner of Fisher Avenue and Susquehanna Street. Typically that material was given to contractors looking for fill materials.

During the most recent round of the permitting process, the Borough became aware that practice was unacceptable since it just moved the pollutants gathered from one place in the watershed to another. Adding to those concerns is the fact that Middletown’s storage site is located in the flood plain.

Middletown has been working with its engineers to determine what method of disposal would be acceptable, but thus far, the EPA’s guidelines have been murky. While it is clear the EPA requires proper disposal of those materials, they have yet to issue specific guidelines as to what methods constitute proper disposal.

The Center for Watershed Protection’s “Municipal Pollution Prevention/Good Hosuekeeping Practices” manual, developed in conjunction with the EPA, recommends storing “swept material in a covered and contained site until it can be disposed of at a landfill.”

Middletown has no such storage location available currently. And the Borough is still working to determine if those materials have to be disposed of as hazardous waste, which greatly increases the cost of disposal.

It is important to note the EPA in recent years has become very aggressive in its enforcement of stormwater regulations. According to a recent story in the Allentown Morning Call, inconsistencies between the way the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection apply and enforce MS4 regulations has added to the difficulties municipalities encounter in complying with those guidelines.

In the meanwhile, fines and legal, engineering and other costs associated with being cited for violations have cost municipalities around the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While the Borough still does not have the definitive details it has been seeking regarding disposal of street sweeping debris, its engineers have advised that it can resume sweeping with some minor modifications while those details are nailed down.

Going forward, street sweeping materials will no longer be given away for use as fill. The Borough will also modify its storage procedures to make certain materials can be quickly removed from the storage area in the flood plain in the event of a flood.

Middletown will also explore the possibility of combining disposal of its street sweeping debris with neighboring municipalities in hopes of receiving a lower, bulk rate if the final guidelines determine it must be treated as hazardous waste.