New Brighton asks judge to make Army keep paying for water cleanup

The city of New Brighton wants a federal judge to force the U.S. Army to abide by a 1988 agreement over the city’s contaminated drinking water supply.

The request Wednesday follows three years of back-and-forth over changes the Army wants to make to the arrangement, New Brighton City Manager Dean Lotter said.

Since 1988, the Army has been paying for a special carbon filtration water treatment system to ensure New Brighton’s water supply is free from trichloroethylene (TCE) and safe to drink. A plume of groundwater contaminated with the industrial solvent migrated from the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP) in Arden Hills.

“They seem to want more control over the treatment of the water,” Lotter said.

Army officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. UPDATE: The Army issued the following written statement on Friday through spokesman Dave Foster:

“The U.S. Army has in the past, is currently, and will continue to be in the future, fully committed to funding the New Brighton Contaminated Groundwater Recovery System (NBCGRS) in order to provide clean drinking water to the residents relying on that water source.  It is unfortunate that despite continuous and repeated attempts since 2011 by the U.S. Army to resolve this issue, a solution has not been reached. The U.S. Army is pleased with the City’s operation of the plant for the past 26 years and has no intention of reducing or changing the City’s control or autonomy in operating the NBCGRS to treat and distribute water to its residents.  The U.S. Army looks forward to a speedy and mutually agreeable resolution.”

According to the court filing (see full document below), the Army years ago gave the city autonomy in managing the treatment of the water and agreed to a payment schedule to finance it. But in 2011, it asked the city to enter into a federal “cooperative agreement” as a condition to receiving additional settlement money, the enforcement action states.

Lotter said it costs about $2.5 million to $3 million annually to operate the water treatment plant, and operating funds are set to be depleted by mid-2015. The system will need to continue to keep TCE out of the water supply, he said.

New Brighton never would have settled the original lawsuit with the U.S. Army if the terms of the agreement could be changed by the U.S. Army at will,” he said. “We are a victim.”

The New Brighton water treatment plant pumps and treats more than 1 billion gallons of groundwater a year, enough to share some of it with neighboring Fridley. It’s one of several groundwater cleanup operations in the Twin Cities metro area where contaminated water is being cleaned up and reused.