Friday, March 19, 1999
Two major sewage spills into Line Creek last summer accelerated preventive measures by the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority, but members of the Line Creek Association are calling for an assessment of long-term damage to the creek from the spills that totaled more than 1.5 million gallons.
At a hearing Tuesday called by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division (EPD), provisions of a "consent order" entered into between EPD and WASA were outlined, followed by a presentation by WASA manager Larry Turner. Numerous questions were answered by representatives of both entities, and a public hearing thereafter elicited comments from six citizens.
Jeff Larson of EPD said that the agency already has received "about 10" written comments from citizens. The comment period for written responses to EPD ends March 31, Larson said. He was challenged by several residents on the "lag time" between an unauthorized release of sewage into a stream and the time that EPD makes public its corrective stipulations via Internet.
Larson said that in any major accident, particularly those impacting drinking water, public health officials in the area are notified immediately and the public should then receive notice. He defended the confidential negotiating process of arriving at a consent order because those discussions are now protected by law, but residents disagreed, saying the process should be open to the public.
Both spills from Peachtree City's system occurred as a result of storm damages, Turner said, resulting in lengthy power outages. All three plants now have standby power, he added, in addition to diversion capability from Flat Creek to the other two plants and 24-hour staffing, seven days a week. A new monitoring system pinpoints problems immediately, he added.
Turner also pointed out that the authority "bought a 25-year-old system from Georgia Utilities" that had numerous repair and maintenance problems. To date the authority has spent or committed more than $5 million to system-wide improvements, he added. He commented:
"As much as anyone, the authority regrets that these discharges occurred; however, the authority's position is that both of these occurrences were an 'Act of God' and that the authority was in the process of correcting all of the deficiencies that were a carry-over from Georgia Utilities, Inc. While the authority feels that is has been acting in good faith and was doing all within its power, it did agree to the consent order in an effort to settle this matter in a timely and economical manner. We still feel that the $41,500 settlement could be more effectively utilized at the local level for water quality monitoring or other system improvements."
Several speakers agreed with Turner about the fine, commenting that such penalties should be earmarked for correcting local problems. Some said the fine was not enough for the magnitude of the spills, sludge accumulation and other permit violations cited in the consent order. Larson told the group that fines are earmarked for the Hazardous Waste Fund but are part of the state general fund.
Gunther Ruckl of the Line Creek Association described the sewage spills as a "catastrophic" event that he "refused to call an Act of God." Dennis Chase said the area should be extensively evaluated, since the spills had in his opinion "drastically impaired" the ability of Line Creek to support stream life, as compared to upstream areas. He said that "small fines and loosely defined studies will not solve the problem of potential threats to health" from the spills.
Gerald Woolsey of Brooks, who said he lives six miles downstream from the Line Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant, said that the spills were equivalent to WASA's having dumped "garbage in my front yard." The water safety and quality of nearby underground wells may have been affected, he added.
James Ryan said he sought to "gore both oxes," challenging EPD to do a better job of informing the public, and calling on the WASA to do more planning for the future.
After the comment period ends, EPD will decide whether Peachtree City has met conditions of the consent order, or the process should start again. The WASA has voted to pay the $41,500 fine, but no money has yet been paid to EPD.