Published on May 11th, 2016 |1
Utilities Committee okays paying EPD $378,136 for water quality violations
The Consent Order provides for the payment of $378,136 but without an admission of guilt, which prevents third parties from using it in litigation, according to a city attorney.
Stating he had not seen anything like this in his 14-year tenure on the city’s Utilities Committee, Buckhead’s Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook said, “This legislation reads like an indictment.”
The legislation approving the fine to be paid was for water quality violations at the city’s wastewater treatment plants and combined sewer overflow facilities that were not covered by other legislation. The Department of Watershed Management (DWM) did not provide a total of other fines that have been paid.
EPD and Atlanta Department of the Watershed Management documents cite 34 unpermitted discharges in the millions of gallons – the worst being a mechanical malfunction Jan. 11, 2014, that led to 111.7 million gallons released from the West Area Combined Sewer Overflow Water Quality Control Facility.
Another incident, from Oct. 20, 2011, involved a bisulfite spill at the Intrenchment Creek Water Quality Control Facility in southeast Atlanta that killed an estimated 1,226 fish and affected 0.7 miles of stream.
The resolution also cites 131 effluent limit violations, 37 permit violations and 15 major outfall spills.
While the Utilities Committee has a standing (routine) paper for “stipulated” penalties for violating water quality standards from the combined sewer overflow facilities, this was a new set of fines the city Utilities Committee was being asked to approve.
Buckhead’s Dist. 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean discussed concerns that she had with the communications between the DWM and the city Utilities Committee. Adrean said, “I don’t appreciate picking up the newspaper on Monday morning and reading this about it in the paper. I would think as members of the Utilities Committee you would have let us know.”
Based on an observation of the reaction of the council committee, it became clear that the news media was informed before the committee.
Buckhead Dist. 7 Councilman Howard Shook asked if there would be an apology to the public forthcoming for the millions of gallons of sewage spilled and the fines that must be paid by the ratepayers.
DWM Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina indicated that her team was working very hard and that the age of the system and focus on the Consent Decree work has stressed the
department. Macrina stated, “I don’t have anything to apologize for.”
Commissioner Macrina told the committee that it (Consent Order) was “very well negotiated” covering 81 months of various violations which accumulated over 6.5 years. This was in addition to millions of dollars in fines paid for other violations not covered by this legislation.
Shook pressed the Commissioner for more details, asking for the total volume of pollution released to the environment to which Macrina responded that she didn’t have that figure.
The City Utilities Committee voted to forward the legislation to the entire City Council for a vote but without a recommendation and with a condition of providing additional information. The motion carried 5 to 1, with Shook casting the no vote.
Shook explained his no vote saying, “I’m voting nay as I think the lawyers did too good of a job on this and the fines should be exponentially higher.”
(Editor’s Note: Justin Wiedeman, CPA, PE, a principal of Sargent Advisory Group LLC, provided content for this article. Wiedeman has been a consultant to BuckheadView’s editor for decades on issues dealing with Atlanta’s water and sewer systems.)