Valdosta Daily Times

September 1, 2013

Citizens suing city over sewage

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — A group of citizens living in the Meadowbrook area filed suit last week against the City of Valdosta for damages and injunctive relief over the sewage spills in their neighborhood, alleging the City has failed to properly operate and maintain the municipal sewage system.

The suit contends that raw sewage has been discharged onto their properties, into two of their residences, and filling one resident’s swimming pool.

“The filth from the sewage overflows included, among other things, used toilet paper, human waste, used condoms, condom wrappers, used tampons and used tampon applicators.”

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 28, in Lowndes County Superior Court, seeks damages from the City for damages to their properties. The Meadowbrook residents are suing for injunctive and permanent relief from the numerous sewage spills on their property, asking that the court order the city to “cease all discharges of sewage onto Plaintiffs' properties and to abate the existing nuisance conditions.”

The plaintiffs' properties are next to Two Mile Branch, which flows into the Withlacoochee, and along which the City maintains sewage lines that carry raw sewage to the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The lawsuit states the problems began in April 2009, when floodwaters caused sewage discharges from the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant and associated sewage lines. As the plaintiffs’ properties are located upriver from the plant, all of the sewage that has impacted their homes is raw and untreated, and is unrelated to the plant’s numerous spills.

“After the 2009 (flood), the City of Valdosta assured plaintiffs, and other Valdostans, that the sewage discharges occurred in connection with a once-in-a-lifetime climatic event.”

According to the suit, following the 2009 event, city officials evaluated the sewer system and wrote, “The damage and risks will continue unabated if significant mitigation measures are not put in place.” The suit states the City has not

 done anything to this point to stop the sewage overflows, ignoring their own assessment.

Following the 2009 event, the City attempted for more than two years to obtain state and federal assistance for $92 million to relocate and rebuild the WWTP, but all attempts were rejected. The City since re-evaluated the project and is putting together funding for about $55 million for re-building the force mains for the sewer lines along with the plant’s relocation. However, in addition to Georgia Emergency Management Agency loans, the project is dependent upon the passage of SPLOST VII in November.

The City released a statement on Aug. 22 concerning approximately $2.5 million in short-term solutions that are currently underway at the WWTP to get the plant back into compliance with the NPDES permit until it can be moved.

The release also states that there are four additional projects, expected to be completed by November 2014, that will remove over 50 percent of sewer flow from the Meadowbrook sewer trunk line. The estimated cost of these projects is $32 million.

This lawsuit may soon be followed by another, as a law firm in Madison, Fla., is currently working on background for a class-action suit against the City of Valdosta.

Bo Hardee of Hardee Law Firm said they’ve been working on the suit for some time on behalf of businesses and residents in the Madison area who have been financially impacted from the numerous raw sewage spills into the Withlacoochee, which have flowed into north Florida and the Suwanee River.

“There are warnings at every boat ramp that it’s not safe to swim, drink, etc.,” he said.