Home > Uncategorized > DEP Quietly Proposes Permit for New Sewage Treatment Plant On Crosswicks Creek

DEP Quietly Proposes Permit for New Sewage Treatment Plant On Crosswicks Creek

New Sewage Plant Would Lower Water Quality, Spur Sprawl

Public Unaware of Environmental, Recreational, Land Use, & Economic Implications

Astonishing Reversal of 25 Years of Water Quality Planning

Crosswicks Creek - at location of proposed new sewage treatment plant (Rt. 537 bridge, Plumstead Township)

Crosswicks Creek – at location of proposed new sewage treatment plant (Rt. 537 bridge, Plumsted Township)

[Important Update below]

The Christie DEP has reversed or weakened many longstanding environmental policies and regulations at the DEP since taking power in 2010, but this may be one of the more significant and egregious, with potential to establish a number of damaging statewide precedents.

The DEP is proposing to approve a new sewage treatment plant on Crosswicks Creek, an environmentally sensitive low flowing tributary to the Delaware River, flowing though the ecologically spectacular Trenton/Hamilton marsh.

Here are the relevant regulatory documents I’ve been able to obtain – the public hearing is Wednesday December 17, 2014 at 4 pm – a real Christmas present, eh?:

The new plant is designed to serve new downtown and sprawl growth (400+ units on a 150 acre tract) and is being justified due to failing septic systems and the inability of local homeowners to pay for replacing those failing septic systems (this is an argument we regularly hear to extend sewer lines, but rarely to build a new plant with new capacity).

[* Here is the New Egypt Redevelopment Plan that calls for sewers.]

For about 25 years, DEP has set increasingly strict water quality standards and an increasingly aggressive “anti degradation” policy that seeks to prevent the decline in water quality in NJ’s few high quality rivers and streams.

Additionally, DEP presided over a statewide policy that, in concert with strong public opposition and elimination of federal construction grant funds, made it very difficult – if not impossible – to build a new publicly owned sewage treatment plant.

After 20 years of watershed planning, DEP recognized the importance of protecting headwater streams and tributaries.

Accordingly, the DEP increasingly sought to protect low flowing streams and tributaries. The low flows in those stream provide very little, if any, dilution for sewage discharge and they are typically very sensitive to pollution.

Those water quality and watershed protection policies have resulted in closing many old small sewage treatment plants on small streams, in favor of larger regional plants.

DEP has had  an effective ban on new treatment plants to these small tributaries, particularly those to the Delaware River.

There have been extensive local efforts to protect the Crosswicks Creek watershed. Here are a few:

The Crosswicks Creek drains into the Delaware River near the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh which is recognized for its diverse habitat types. The marsh is home to a myriad of different plant and animal species. For this reason, the water quality of Crosswicks Creek and its tributaries is important to the health of the Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh and to the plants and animals that the marsh supports. In order to address the protection of water quality, an emphasis was placed on identifying opportunities to protect riparian corridors.

Gov. Christie’s DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, a man with zero environmental or regulatory training or experience, is oblivious to all this and has thrown all that water quality and watershed planning history out the window.

I just learned about this from my friend Tony O’Donnell and got over to New Egypt this morning for a tour.

When we walked to the location of the new plant, we surprised a red tail hawk presiding over the stream corridor.

Not so ironically, the proposed new sewage outfall pipe would discharge to the creek just 100 yards or so upstream of a Green Acres canoe launch & Monmouth County Greenway project: another failure to plan for land use and water quality – enjoy paddling in piss! (* and kayaking in krap!)


So, given DEP’s reckless promotion of this new plant, I just fired off this letter to US EPA Regional Adminstrator Enck to try to slow this thing down.

On top of the environmental outrage, there are real economic and social injustice issues too. Local homeowners are low and moderate income  – they will get whacked by new sewer connection fees and quarterly sewer bills. There is a neighborhood of Mexican/immigrant low income farmworkers where many people live in small dilapidated 2 BR house as renters – no doubt that they will face rent increase to pay. All this while downtown business get subsidized and new a new 400 unit senior age restricted developer benefit.

[It is not implausible that the end game for this neighborhood  is the racist ethnic cleansing we saw at The Gardens.]

This ought to give the public some idea of the issues at stake.

December 14, 2014

Dear Regional Administrator Enck:

Please accept this appeal on an emergent matter that is time sensitive.

I just learned that the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP) issued a draft NJPDES permit for a new publicly owned treatment plant discharge to Crosswicks Creek, a low flowing and ecologically sensitive tributary to the Delaware River, just upstream of the Trenton/Hamilton marsh in Plumsted Township.

According to the DEP public notice on the draft permit cover letter, the public comment period closed 30 days after the November 5, 2014 publication in the DEP Bulletin and local newspapers. (see draft permit:


However, the draft permit indicates that a public hearing will be held on December 17, 2014.

The NJ DEP classified this draft NJPDES permit as a “minor” permit.

According the NJ DEP NJPDES permit rules, a “minor” permit is defined: (NJAC 7:14A-1.2)

Minor facility” means any facility or activity not classified a “major facility” by the Regional Administrator or the Department.


Accordingly, the Regional Administrator has discretion in the practical definition of “minor” facility. 

NJ DEP NJPDES permit rules provide two additional factors to classify permits as “major” or “minor”, for industrial or municipal discharges..

There is a scoring system for industrial facilities, but for municipals, the DEP threshold in 1 MGD.

The proposed draft permit is for 600,000 GPD discharge, and thus is below the 1 MGD flow threshold for “major facility” under NJ DEP NJPDES regulations.

However, given the significant policy, regulatory, and technical issues involved in this permit and the public interest concerns, we ask that you exercise your discretion to define this draft “minor” NJPDES permit as a “major” facility NJPDES permit subject to EPA review.

We also request, given the same interests and issues, that you request – or require – that DEP extend the public comment period for 60 days following the public hearing. It is unusual and unacceptable for the NJ DEP to close the public comment period on a draft permit PRIOR TO the public hearing.

The public hearing provided an opportunity for the public to share concerns and learn about issues relevant to the draft permit. It is critical that the written comment period remain open after the close of the public hearing.

Some of the complex and controversial policy, regulatory, and technical issues involved with this daft permit include:

1) the Crosswicks Creek is listed as “impaired” for phosphorus, mercury, and bacteria under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. There may be additional relevant “aquatic life support” and “recreational use” impairments that require additional research to determine at this time.

While the draft permit appears to include a Water Quality Based Effluent Limit (WQBEL) for phosphorus, the public needs additional time to review whether the draft permit effluent limits are fully protective and comply with applicable Clean Water Act requirements ;

2) the applicant’s antidegradation analysis in the draft permit documents declines in water quality and raised significant concerns about how socio-economic factors are evaluated. The public needs additional time to review whether the draft permit effluent limits are fully protective and comply with applicable Clean Water Act requirements.

Additionally, given the manner in which the socio-economic analysis is used to justify a lowering of water quality, EPA and the public need to understand whether this analysis is consistent with state and federal Environmental Justice Executive Order review requirements.

3) the Crosswicks Creek is a low flowing and recreationally and ecologically sensitive tributary to the Delaware River. A new discharge raises a host of issues that warrant close scrutiny;

4) The proposed new discharge is upstream on the Trenton/Hamilton marsh, an ecologically rich and water quality sensitive resource of regional significance – including the presence of federally protected species and potential water quality impacts of federal concern;

5) the proposed new discharge would impact the Delaware River and is subject to policies of the Delaware River Basin Commission;

6) The Crosswicks Creek is a significant recreational resource. However, bacterial impairments prevent full recreational use enjoyment by the public. The public needs additional time to review the permit to determine whether recreational uses will be protected.

7) We understand that this is the first NJPDES permit for a new POTW discharging to a low flow Delaware River tributary in many years. Accordingly, this permit will set a precedent and establish new regulatory policy.

8) It is vitally important that EPA rigorously review this draft permit to ensure that there is full compliance with the Clean Water Act, including meaningful public participation.

9) The NJ DEP draft permit minor classification and proposed public participation requirements frustrate meaningful EPA and public participation.

We strongly urge your immediate intervention to extend the public comment period for 60 days after the public hearing and for EPA to review this draft permit for full compliance with the Clean Water Act.


[Update: 12/15/14 – this may take an additional post, but for now, all I can say is that the basis for the effluent limits in the DEP draft permit are not clear.

Above, I used the terms “advanced” and “tertiary treatment” without adequate specificity – except for the need for biological nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrient) removal requirements.  Obviously, any new plant must have state of the art advanced treatment.

However, in quickly reviewing the draft permit, I found only these, which are 30+ year old EPA minimum national treatment requirements and Guidance documents.

This  DEP reliance on outdated federal EPA minimums may be a result of Gov. Christie’s “regulator relief” Executive Order #2, which seeks to rollback NJ’s stricter standards to their federal minimums: (from the DEP draft permit:

  • The effluent limitations and permit conditions in this permit have been developed to ensure compliance with the following, as applicable:   [1-4]
Secondary Treatment Standards (40 CFR Part 133, N.J.A.C. 7:14A-12.2 and -12.3),
  • 5-Day Carbonaceous Biochemical Oxygen Demand (CBOD5):
Percent removal limitations are based on the definition of secondary treatment 40 CFR 133.102(a)(4)(iii) and N.J.A.C. 7:14A-12.2(c) 3. 
  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS):     

Percent removal limitations are based on the definition of secondary treatment at 40 CFR 133.102(b)(3) and N.J.A.C. 7:14A-12.2(e) 3.

Here is more current technical work by US EPA on advanced, or “tertiary treatment”:


In this report, EPA Region 10 presents observations of advanced wastewater treatment installed at 23 municipalities in the United States. These facilities employ chemical addition and a range of filtration technologies which have proven to be very effective at producing an effluent containing low levels of phosphorus.

Observations from this evaluation include:

• Chemical addition to wastewater with aluminum- or iron-based coagulants followed by tertiary filtration can reduce total phosphorus concentrations in the final effluent to very low levels. The total phosphorus concentrations achieved by some of these WWTPs are consistently near or below 0.01 mg/l.

• The cost of applying tertiary treatment for phosphorus removal is affordable, when measured by the monthly residential sewer fees charged by the municipalities that operate these exemplary facilities. The monthly residential sewer rates charged to maintain and operate the entire treatment facility ranged from as low as $18 to the highest fee of $46.

There appeared to be no technical or economic reason that precludes other dischargers from using any of the tertiary treatment technologies that are employed at these WWTPs. Any of these technologies may be scaled as necessary to fulfill treatment capacity needs after consideration of site specific conditions.

Other pollutants that commonly affect water quality such as biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, and fecal coliform bacteria are also significantly reduced through these advanced treatment processes.

• WWTPs which utilize enhanced biological nutrient removal (EBNR) in the secondary treatment process can often reduce total phosphorus concentrations to 0.3 mg/l or less prior to tertiary filtration. While employing EBNR is not essential to achieving high phosphorus removal rates, EBNR enhances the performance and reduces operating costs (especially chemical use) of the subsequent tertiary filtration process. Recently published studies report that the longer solids retention times used in BNR processes also removes a significant amount of other pollutants contained in municipal wastewater, including toxics, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products.

• The low effluent turbidity produced by tertiary filtration allows for efficient disinfection of final effluent without chlorination through the use of ultraviolet treatment.

• The treatment processes and quality of the final effluent produced by tertiary filtration for phosphorus removal typically meet state criteria for wastewater reclamation. Reuse of this high quality effluent can be an attractive alternative to direct discharge into surface waters in situations where restrictive NPDES permit limitations apply.

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