Hillsborough asked to clean up its sewer act

The same environmental group that recently sued Burlingame for alleged sewage spills into the Bay announced Thursday it will try to force San Mateo County and Hillsborough to potentially spend millions or face severe federal penalties for its own spills.

Baykeeper, a San Francisco-based nonprofit environmental group, gave notice to Hillsborough and the county that it will file the lawsuit in federal court in 60 days, accusing the municipalities of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act. Federal law requires 60 days notice before a lawsuit can be filed.

Baykeeper officials claim Hillsborough and the Burlingame Hills, an unincorporated zone under the county’s jurisdiction, have neglected to fix sewer systems that have caused dozens of spills per each 100 miles of sewer line. Those spills can reach creeks and the Bay and cause adverse health effects to human and aquatic life, said Baykeeper Project Manager Sejal Choksi.

Baykeeper officials have not pinpointed any monetary figures they are seeking but want the two municipalities to fix their sewer lines and reduce the amount of wastewater that flows into the Burlingame sewage plant. Baykeeper officials said the suit is the best option to pursue environmental reform.

In the recent past, Baykeeper has won similar lawsuits against cities such as Richmond for $20 million and a similar settlement with Vallejo.

Hillsborough Assistant City Engineer Dave Bishop said the announcement came as a complete shock to the town. The city plans to invest an additional $17 million during the next 12 years on its 90 miles of sewers, he said. Hillsborough residents also pay the highest sewer rates in the Bay Area, he said.

“We’re committed to repairing our sewer system,” Bishop said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s going down this path at this point.”

County officials did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. In February, county Public Works Director Jim Porter said a resident protest two years ago negated the county from being able to increase rates in that district, leaving the county with less money with which to repair its system. Under state law, if enough residents oppose a sewer rate hike, the city cannot implement an increase.

Baykeeper filed a suit against the city of Burlingame in federal court in February. The case is still unresolved.

Burlingame, Hillsborough and the Burlingame Hills are all connected geographically and their sewage flows to the plant on Airport Boulevard in Burlingame next to the Bay.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

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