Sewer Agreement Likely

Sep. 17, 2013 @ 09:26 AM

The Yadkin Riverkeeper said Monday he thinks things are moving toward an agreement to avoid a federal lawsuit over the city’s wastewater spills.
In July, Dean Naujoks threatened to file suit through the Southern Environmental Law Center if the city does not address its recurring problems and alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The Law Center sent a 60-day intent to file notice to Thomasville officials. The notice expired last week. The riverkeeper environmental organization and the SELC have agreed to suspend action on the lawsuit pending approval of what could become a consent judgement.  
Lawyers and city and state officials met Aug. 29 to list details and conditions.
“I am optimistic in the progress we have made and feel we can get an agreement to remedy the sewer operation,” Naujoks said. “I know Thomasville wants to put this to rest also.”
Others involved in the talks are the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the State Justice Department, Naujoks said.
The courts could enforce a legally-binding consent agreement. It would include improvement goals and other requirements the city would have to meet, said City of Thomasville Attorney Paul Mitchell. The State Attorney General’s Office would draw up the specifics, Mitchell said.
“We could be taxed or fined for violations and we have no problem with that,” Mitchell said. “We have made progress in this work.”
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.
“We opened a $27 million treatment plant just before that happened,” Mitchell said. “I think we surprised the riverkeeper with what we have done since then.”
The city also completed repairs to the Baptist Children’s Home Collector Line, the site of the largest spill in 2009.
The city has obtained about $5.3 million in loan and grant funding to repair pump stations at Northside and East Davidson and to replace the North Hamby Creek line. Work is scheduled to start this fall.

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 more than 4 million gallons into local waterways, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. The discharges are caused by mechanical and pipe failures, and seepage from an aging system. Heavy rains caused many of the overflows.