Valdosta Daily Times

September 26, 2013

EPD discusses lack of city sewage penalties

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The lack of a civil penalty attached to the City of Valdosta’s consent order from the state Environmental Protection Division is good news for citizens, but unusual in the state of Georgia.

The consent order was issued by the EPD this week for violations specifically related to the release of raw sewage into the Withlacoochee River from the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant in February 2013.

A search of previous EPD orders in the state shows that civil penalties are routine and may be given separately or in conjunction with an SEP, or supplemental environmental project. Valdosta received a $200,000 SEP but no fines.

James A. “Jac” Capp, branch chief of the EPD’s Watershed Protection Branch, said he worked with City Manager Larry Hanson on the order but could not comment on previous actions taken by EPD as he just moved to his new position on July 1.

Capp was previously the chief for the EPD's Air Protection Branch.

“I cannot speak for the past, but there are two primary reasons why the city wasn’t fined. One is that the purpose of a monetary penalty is to act as a deterrent for future noncompliance, which is not helpful here. This is a municipality, not an industry.”

Capp added that the second primary reason is that, as the city already had a plan in place to reconstruct the facility, “a fine would just be an added burden to taxpayers. The city is spending a huge amount of money to reconstruct.”

Fines are case specific, said Capp, and in Valdosta’s case, “The citizens are already paying. There is no good reason to add on top of that.”

Fines levied by the EPD in recent years to municipalities in Georgia pale in comparison to the one given the city of Atlanta in 1998 — a $27.5 million SEP and a civil penalty for $2.5 million —  but still include hefty fines and/or SEPs.

 In settlement amounts levied by the EPD for violations of the Water Quality Control Act, from January 2012 to December 2012, The Times could locate only six other cases from more than 100 with a zero amount, and all were industries or private contractors. The executed orders to municipalities included fines ranging from $250 to $98,000.

Capp said the EPD’s goal is to improve water quality for the state and “the City of Valdosta is dealing with enough.”

With exception of the SEP, the consent order is a direct reflection of the plan adopted by the Valdosta City Council in April 2013; The Times asked Capp if it's typical to let a city provide the framework for its own consent order.

“Going into this, it was understood by all that the facility has to be relocated,” said Capp. “The city didn’t have to be told, they already knew, and they had already made significant mitigation measures with a specific timeline for completion.”

Capp said the timeline adopted by the city and included in the consent order gives the EPD the basis for penalties in the future if those timelines are not met.

Our staff will be tracking compliance with the order throughout the process.”