Community News This photos was taken at Atlanta Memorial Park following one of the heavy rainfall events that left raw sewage in the park and its playground area.

Published on February 18th, 2016 |

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City Council seeks halt to sewage spewing into creeks, parks, backyards

The Atlanta City Council unanimously passed a resolution Feb. 15 urging Mayor Kasim Reed and the Department of Watershed Management to immediately address the decade-old problem of raw sewage contaminating Peachtree Creek and Atlanta Memorial Park in south Buckhead.

The playground area of Atlanta Memorial Park taped off after it was contaminated with sewage during an earlier flood incident.

The playground area of Atlanta Memorial Park taped off after it was contaminated with sewage during an earlier flood incident.

The resolution, co-authored by Buckhead resident and At-Large City Councilwoman Mary Norwood and her colleagues Felicia Moore and Andre Dickens, asks the administration to address discharges and combined sewer overflows from the Westside Combined Sewer System and report back to council within 90 days.

The issue once again caught public attention following a major flooding of Peachtree Creek on Christmas Eve that left raw sewage (feces) deposited in Memorial Park—most notably in the park’s playground area—as it has during heavy rain incidents for the past 15 years or more.

And the national media attention associated with the dirty drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, got many residents of south Buckhead thinking that this situation in their back yards is also a major health hazard and environment issue during both dry weather and flooding events.

Another factor driving the recent outrage over the contamination is the vote coming up March 1, as part of the presidential primary ballot, to extend for another four years an extra 1 percent sales tax to support Watershed Management operations. In the first four years of the tax, it raised $750 million.

The legislation was first presented before the City Council Utilities Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9, which was attended by a significant audience of concerned citizens and representatives of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy.

An AMPC delegation, along with other concerned citizens and media, are expected to be at the next meeting of the Utilities Committee at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23 in Conference Room 1 at

This pipe across Peachtree Creek at Memorial Park usually is eight feet or more above the water. During heavy rain flooding, it is sometimes covered with water.

This pipe across Peachtree Creek at Memorial Park usually is eight feet or more above the water. During heavy flooding, it is sometimes covered with water.

Atlanta City Hall, 55 Trinity Avenue.

The Department of Watershed Management is expected to present both short-term and long-term solutions to the sewage spills and contamination in Buckhead’s creeks, parks and neighborhoods during that meeting.

Meanwhile, at the urging of BuckheadView and Buckhead resident Justin Wiedeman (a professional engineer and accountant), Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris has asked the interim head of the county’s Health Department, David Sarnow, to look into what Fulton County can do as a public health matter. The county has responsibility for public health matters.

In approaching Morris about this matter, BuckheadView questioned whether the Fulton County Health Department had ever been called out to Memorial Park over the past decade to check the soil in the park after a sewage discharge to determine if the park was safe for humans.

On the day after City Council passed the resolution on Feb. 15, Department of Watershed Management crews showed up at the western end of Memorial Park to clean out the sewer line between sewer system manholes on and adjacent to two private properties. One of those properties belongs to Jason Holland, who had spoken up during the Utilities Committee meeting about the problems.

In both dry weather and during rain incidents, sewage spews from the two manholes on parkland next to Holland’s property and from the manhole on his neighbor’s property. The pipe connecting the manholes runs under Holland’s backyard.

On Tuesday, Watershed Management crews showed up with heavy equipment to work on building a concrete driveway down into the park’s floodplain to provide access to the manholes,

Photo shows one of he pieces of equipment Watershed Management moved into the floodplain next to Jason Holland's home to build a concrete driveway down to two sewer manholes.

Photo shows one of the pieces of equipment Watershed Management moved into the floodplain next to Jason Holland’s home to build a concrete driveway down to two sewer manholes.

according to Dist. 8 City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean. That activity was halted.

Adrean told BuckheadView that Department of Watershed Management Commissioner JoAnn Macrina had told her the department was going to build two driveways. One would go through the property of a resident who gave permission in order for DWM to get to the manhole on that property.

The second driveway would have to cross a part of Holland’s property and go down into the floodplain part of the park to service the two manholes next to Holland’s home. Holland had not given DWM permission for that access.

Macrina told Adrean DWM needs access to the 96-inch main sewer line, which according to Holland runs along Howell Mill Road, in order to service the problems with the manholes and the private sewer lines that lead to the main line.

“I find it unacceptable that she (Macrina) would proceed with this work without talking to the City Council representative in advance and informing the public about what is being done,” Adrean told BuckheadView.

Adrean said she demanded that Macrina provide a report on the scope of work, timeline, etc., before the project should continue. As of Wednesday, the work had stopped.

Also earlier in the week, park neighbor Gail Driebe had sent an email stating that Watershed Management had surveyors in the park a few days earlier. “They staked an area only a few yards away

The playground at Atlanta Memorial Park during a flood situation that dumps fecal matter in the area.

The playground at Atlanta Memorial Park during a flood situation that typically dumps fecal matter in the area.

to relocate the playground, still within the flood area,” She posted on Facebook.

“This is absolute madness,” Driebe wrote. “These professionals repeatedly approve projects that increase storm runoff while wasting resources on elaborate nonsense.”

“The sewage spewing from manholes is actually the much smaller part of this story, though it is more visible and totally unacceptable as well,” Wiedeman wrote to BuckheadView. “The combined sewer overflows are the source of the problems and were actually a design feature as storage capacity was expensive and city consultants recommended not separating the sewers.”

Wiedeman wrote that, at the time the project design was completed in 2003, “I thought four combined sewer overflows per year was too many. As a paid consultant on the city’s ‘Value Engineering’ team at the time, I balked.”

Wiedeman grew up down the street from Memorial Park and continues to live in Buckhead today. His family’s Buckhead-based engineering firm designed, engineered and built many water and sewer operations for cities across the U.S., including some Atlanta facilities.

“I declined further engagement with Watershed Management because I would not get paid to design a sewage dump on my neighbors,” Wiedeman added. “I can’t explain why other engineers and

Photo shows some of the erosion along the Peachtree Creek banks in the area of Atlanta Memorial Park following the Christmas Eve creek flooding.

Photo shows some of the erosion along the Peachtree Creek banks in the area of Atlanta Memorial Park following the Christmas Eve creek flooding.

‘stakeholders’ went along with it.”

But now, according to Wiedeman, the city is “far exceeding the four combined sewer overflows per year because Watershed successfully lobbied the state into modifying the NPDES permit to remove any reference to a control of frequency in August of 2015.
“The Clean Water Act and the consent decree (under which the city must comply) still have the limitation on frequency, but also require that water quality meet the requirements,” wrote Wiedeman. “Not only is the city not being required to meet water quality requirements, the City can now discharge as much combined sewer overflow to our creeks as they choose.”

Wiedeman stated, “While I’m sure the city’s consultants are proud of the fruits of their labor, as well as Watershed Management with regards to changing the permit, I find it deeply offensive.”

Wiedeman wrote to BuckheadView: “Everyone in Watershed, including consultants, continue to get paid while we pay the highest water and sewer rates in the country along with a (additional) 1 percent sales tax – and by design they dump sewage on our neighborhood!”

He said he does not blame Mayor Kasim Reed or his predecessor Shirley Franklin, the self-proclaimed “sewer mayor.” “They are not engineers. But it’s time to be transparent about this and find a solution. It will not go away by itself.”

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