Published on March 14th, 2016 |1
Council of Neighborhoods airs Memorial Park flooding, sewage spills
Adrean told those attending a recent meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, “For Memorial Park, what we need is a 30-year solution.” She said what she heard from Watershed Management at the March 9 city Utilities Committee work session “were repairs.”
Buckhead resident and City Councilwoman at-large Mary Norwood, who came late to the meeting due to two earlier meetings, agreed with Adrean: “What they (the city’s Department of Watershed Management) are talking about is band aids.”
Adrean told the well-attended BCN meeting, which included representatives of Watershed Management and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organization, “If we don’t have the right capacity (to handle the flows of sewage and stormwater), that is what we need to work on.”
Adrean, who is a member of the Utilities Committee along with Buckhead City Councilman Howard Shook, said, “Everybody is on board to find a solution to the problem” that has been going on for decades.
The problem, simply put, is that when it rains hard raw sewage ends up in Tanyard Creek and Clear Creek and then flows into Peachtree Creek, which tends to overflow its banks. The sewage ends up being deposited in Atlanta Memorial Park, including around the children’s playground area, as well in neighbors’ yards.
Even in dry weather, residents in the area report sewage spewing from manholes in the park area and in their yards. More than two months after the last major flooding of Peachtree Creek on Dec. 24-26, Fulton County health inspectors found pockets of water in the park playground area that they said smelled of sewage.
The flooding of Peachtree Creek in December brought together the forces of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy and neighborhood groups with Adrean demanding that the city find a solution to protect the area from what they consider a major health hazard.
After a meeting with Mayor Reed and a tour of the problem areas by the mayor and his city administration staff, the mayor has personally promised to prioritize and expedite measures to deal with the problems in the Peachtree Creek basin.
Adrean told those attending the meeting there also is an indication that money will be available “to fund an independent engineer to look at everything Watershed Management comes up with.”
The principal speaker for the Thursday night meeting was Buckhead resident and professional engineer Justin Wiedeman, who has worked on water and sewer systems for about 40 years and has
consulted in the past with the city of Atlanta on its sewer system operations.
Wiedeman earlier in the week made the same presentation to the work session of the city’s Utilities Committee work session that he presented at the BCN meeting Thursday night. (To read the BuckhedView coverage of the Utilities Committee work session, click here.)
Wiedeman explained to BCN attendees the complexities of Atlanta’s combined sewer system and its separated sewer system and how the two come together near Memorial Park through the Tanyard Creek Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) facility.
He explained the levels of treatment required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as dictated by federal regulations and a 1990s federal court consent decree with Atlanta due to a history of insufficient sewage treatment and polluting the Chattahoochee River.
Wiedeman described the various levels of treatment that are required—in dry, wet and very wet weather—as both the combined and separated sewage pass through various facilities on the way to the R.M. Clayton Water Quality Treatment Plant in northwest Atlanta.
Wiedeman pointed out that the flow capacity in the Peachtree Creek Watershed “is enormous,” starting with the flow coming out of DeKalb County that goes to R.M. Clayton for final treatment.
He contended that the treatment facilities upstream do not provide the minimum treatment required by law. He added, “Someone should be held accountable.”
The professional engineer, who began working on sewer projects in the summer at age 15, said he is shocked that the city of Atlanta has managed to get the definition of sewage spills, overflows and discharges changed in its new permits and that EPD has lowered the restrictions on allowable sewage discharges from the CSO facilities.
Wiedeman acknowledged North Buckhead resident Dieter Franz, who was attending the meeting, as the person who gave him his first summer job working on a sewer project in DeKalb County.
Another person in the audience, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper new Executive Director Juliet Cohen (who attended with former Executive Director Sally Bethea) accused Wiedeman and others of not properly interpreting the sewer permit information and claimed the standards and requirements have not been reduced.
Wiedeman told the group, “What Watershed Management does impacts growth in this part of the city and growth most certainly impacts the sewage systems.”
He said what Watershed Management has forecast in its Master Plan is based on a population census from the 1990s, which greatly underestimated the growth of the city in Midtown and Buckhead.
One person at the meeting suggested City Council should consider a moratorium on new development—especially new apartment complexes—until the city can fix its sewer infrastructure to handle the pressure on the system.
Adrean agreed that the city should provide policy guidance “so that we don’t put extensive pressure on the infrastructure. We are putting a lot of pressure on a very small area,” she added.
Adrean also said the city has not taken on the issue of dealing with stormwater. “The city has never tackled that. We need to do that starting now,”
BCN chairman Tom Tidwell got in a back-and-forth with one of the representatives at the meeting who suggested that Watershed Management is meeting the “minimum requirements” in terms of treating sewage at its various levels of facilities.
Tidwell told the DWM representative, “We can always do better than the minimum” as he asked what the city needs to do to correct the problem at Peachtree Creek and Memorial Park.
The DWM representative offered a simple answer: “Get the facilities working properly.” Seemingly so simple, and yet decades without a solution.