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Rural areas get help navigating environmental regulations

PHOENIX -- An improperly working wastewater lift station in Holbrook once caused a sewage spill, resulting in a $50,000 fine from the state.

Today, with guidance from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the city has a plan in place to comply with state and federal regulations when such problems occur, said Ron Eisele, city accounting assistant.

Holbrook received help through ADEQ's Small Communities Environmental Compliance Assistance Program, which helps rural municipalities identify, correct and prevent environmental compliance problems. Participating communities qualify for up to a 100 percent penalty reduction on future environmental violations from ADEQ.

"We now know exactly what we need to do when problems come up, who we need to notify and what permits we need," Eisele said. "This program will help small communities to become more involved and understand why DEQ does what they do and why we should do what's required of us, which will lead to a safer, cleaner environment."

Byron James, ADEQ's community liaison for northeast Arizona, said the agency wants to make sure small communities get the resources and guidance they need to comply with environmental regulations.

"This approach allows for communities to operate more efficiently, save money and improve communication," James said.

ADEQ created the program with a $12,000 grant from the Environmental Council of the States. It is available to all communities with fewer than 3,300 residents and to cities and towns of 3,300 and 10,000 that can demonstrate the program would help them improve compliance with environmental laws.

Other participating communities are Taylor, Eagar, Show Low, Springerville and Winslow. Sanitary districts in Naco and Pinetop-Lakeside also are taking part.

Participants receive materials including a comprehensive manual to assess and evaluate where they are in compliance with regulations. Municipalities then self-report any violations to ADEQ and prepare a Small Community Environmental Protection Plan to improve in areas of need.

James said he has seen improvements in participating communities since the program began in 2007. For example, Holbrook has put procedures in place to deal with asbestos, disposing of old swimming pool water and other challenges.

"Their planning process has been exceptional," James said. "They have identified a number of areas in which to improve on and reduce their environmental footprint."

Eisele, who directed Holbrook's planning, said going through the process with ADEQ helped city leaders outline which issues they should focus on.

"They really gave us the working steps that we needed to take and have really got us going in the right direction," he said.

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