Federal Court Gives Green Light to Sewage Dumping Lawsuit

Federal Court Gives Green Light to Sewage Dumping Lawsuit

A federal court has cleared the way for the Lake Michigan Federation and its co-plaintiff, Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers, to press on with charges that the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s (MMSD) sewage dumping into Lake Michigan violates long-standing federal law. The September ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago allows the two groups to argue that MMSD has repeatedly violated the 1972 Clean Water Act by discharging raw sewage into Lake Michigan and Milwaukee’s rivers since 1995.

Lynn Broaddus, executive director of Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers, says the ruling underscores the power the Clean Water Act gives to citizens.“We have the right and responsibility to insist on an end to sewage dumping,”she says.The two organizations filed suit in U.S. District Court in March 2002, charging that MMSD had violated the Clean Water Act by discharging about 1 billion gallons of raw industrial and domestic waste to area waterways.

In September 2003, a lower court dismissed the groups’ lawsuit, stating that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had already taken action against MMSD. The groups appealed, saying the state provided too little enforcement, too late. The appellate court agreed. “We do not feel confident that the 2002 (DNR action) will indeed result in elimination of the root causes underlying the large-scale violations alleged by the plaintiffs, regardless of the state’s and MMSD’s self-serving statements that it is intended to do so,” the court wrote in its decision.

The court also agreed with the groups’primary criticism of the DNR action: that it does not promise to bring an end to violations. “Compliance means an end to violations, not merely a reduction in the number or size of them,” it wrote. On Oct. 28, the Federation learned that the MMSD plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, a motion the Federation and Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers will oppose. In their lawsuit, the two non-profit groups call for a phase-out of sewage discharges, and for penalties that can be directed to community projects that discourage further waste dumping by the MMSD.

For more information, contact Laurel O’Sullivan at losullivan@lakemichigan.org or 312-939-0838×3.

 

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