Valdosta Daily Times

March 10, 2013

City received help from EPD to keep EPA away

Now EPA is back with more questions

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — In October 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 requested a long list of documents from the City of Valdosta regarding the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Mud Creek Treatment Plant, to which the city responded in November 2012.

The information in the graph on page 4A in today’s edition of The Times is part of the several volumes of information the city had to compile in order to comply with the EPA’s request, which also had to include certification that the information was complete and correct under penalty of law.

The EPA, according to spokesperson Dawn Harris-Young, has not issued any rulings or orders from the request, and it is still under review.

In 2010, the city received a proposed consent order from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division which was never executed.

If the proposed consent order had been executed, the city would have had to pay $276,670 for the violations committed, and follow a series of specified requirements to ensure that there were no further violations.

City officials stated in February 2013 that the order was set aside as it would have nullified their ability to gain funding from FEMA.

Through an open records request, The Times found a series of emails between City Manager Larry Hanson, Deputy City Manager John Whitehead and Cliff Lewis, the acting assistant branch chief for the Suwanee River Basin for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

In the emails, Hanson requests guidance from Lewis regarding the consent order, contesting that the city had been told by EPD officials that the plants would not be included in any action taken and the orders should be for I & I — inflow and infiltration — as it would cause a higher fine due to the additional gallons that would have to be considered.

In the emails, Hanson also reiterates that the city is prepared to receive an order and to follow whatever recommendations and guidelines the EPD requests.

Following the exchange of emails over several months, one in July 2010 from Lewis to Hanson states that as soon as the state EPD learned that the federal EPA “was targeting the city,” he was instructed to do two things: “A comprehensive that would pass the ‘sniff’ test EPD has to pass with EPA regarding the orders we issue and; An order from the state that would back EPA off of its federal targeting of Valdosta, in a well intentioned move to help the city avoid federal penalties that will be more harsh than the state’s.”

Lewis goes on to write that he is going “outside of the typical process of consent order issuance and come up with an order that the city can live with because I have a genuine interest in the injection of common sense, reasonableness, and defensibility in the actions taken by EPD, as well as a desire to see tax dollars sensibly applied to projects that have tangible results for local communities.”