Thomasville faces sewer suit

Jul. 15, 2013 @ 10:18 PM

City officials face a lawsuit from an environmental group because sewer system improvements have not progressed fast enough to deal with spills.

On behalf of the Yadkin Riverkeeper, the Southern Environmental Law Center gave notice to the City of Thomasville for violations of the federal Clean Water Act for repeatedly discharging untreated sewage into waterways in the Yadkin River Basin. The notice was sent to Thomasville’s  mayor and city manager, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The law center will file a lawsuit in 60 days unless the violations are addressed.
“That means that they are looking for a reason not to go forward in 60 days,” City Manager Kelly Craver said Monday. “We are reviewing the letter, but we have not finished yet.”
Craver said center representatives reviewed city spillage records.
“But they did not ask about our projects to improve the system,” Craver said.
Since the summer of 2009 when a single spill lasted several days and discharged more than 15.9 million gallons of wastewater into a tributary of Hamby Creek, city officials have been working on improvements.
The city completed repairs to the Baptist Children’s Home Collector Line, the site of the largest spill in 2009. Planned improvements include an upgrade of the North Side Pump station using a state loan.  The East Davidson Pump Station on Old Emmanuel Church Road experiences overflows because aging equipment can’t handle heavy rains. Renovations are estimated to cost $825,000. The city wants to use state loan funds for the project. The city also plans to replace a large section of the North Hamby sewer line for $3.6 million from Baptist Children’s Home Road to Carmalt Street.
The state environmental agency also has seen and approved city improvement plans.
“And the state is the best funding source for us for these projects,” Craver said. “We have had an improvement plan for four years. We have to work with the process we have and sometimes it is not as fast as you want.”
Thomasville has a long spill history since 2007, according to the law center letter.
“Despite years of violations, Thomasville has not made the system-wide improvements necessary to stop these serious, recurrent violations,” said Julie Youngman, senior law center attorney. “We hope that this notice will spur Thomasville to work with state agencies to create and fund an enforceable plan to end the sewage spills.”

Sewer Woes

Fines: The Federal Clean Water Act prohibits sewer discharges into streams and lakes. The state Division of Water Quality has assessed Thomasville fines of at least $141,000 for discharges.  

Spills: Since September 2009, Thomasville has reported sewer overflows totaling 2,844,418 gallons into Hamby Creek, Abbotts Creek, and eventually into High Rock Lake, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. The discharges are caused by mechanical failures, pipe failures, and seepage from an aging system. Heavy rains caused many of the overflows.

Projects: Thomasville is using state loans to pay for upgrades to the North Hamby Creek sewer line and North Side Pump Station.