The Valdosta Daily Times
The City of Valdosta has known about issues with floodwaters threatening the Withlacoochee wastewater treatment plant since 1984, only four years after the plant became operational. And yet until 2009, little to no mention was made of the issue, other than an occasional spill report issued.
In 2008, the city acknowledged to the EPA that 55 million gallons of untreated wastewater and sewage flowed into the Withlacoochee River due to issues at the plant, a full year prior to the April 2009 event. Documented spills and manhole cover issues go back to the 1990s.
To be fair, the city has spent nearly $4 million in improvements since 2009, according to documents they submitted to EPA, and has already purchased new property; designs for a new plant are 90 percent complete. They’ve received a loan in excess of $32 million to begin the major force main projects to replace the gravity-flow systems. But no actions, according to the city, have physically been taken to keep the sewage spills from happening since 2009.
So despite knowing for nearly 30 years that floodwaters were threatening the plant and millions of gallons of sewage have been released into the Withlacoochee River, last week they took the plant offline and deliberately released millions more gallons into the river, and then applauded themselves over the decision during a City Council session.
Despite knowing that just between October 2007 and September 2012, more than 226 million gallons of SSO (sanitary sewer overflows), or discharges of raw sewage according to the EPA, the city maintains that they’ve done nothing wrong, blaming their woes on FEMA.
Unfortunately for the citizens of the City of Valdosta, the EPA and EPD don’t consider the city’s actions as a cause for celebration. The city was able to avoid a costly consent order previously but that possibility doesn’t seem likely this time. The city is facing fines but it’s the citizens who will pay. The city will be forced to rebuild or repair the plant, but in the meantime, residents will have to deal with raw sewage in their yards.
This issue didn’t start in 2009 but many years prior. Although steps have been taken over the years to rebuild and repair portions of the sewer system and the plant, none have prevented the issue from becoming an environmental catastrophe and health hazard more than 100 times just since 2007.
Does this really seem worthy of applause?
As President John F. Kennedy said, “Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
City leaders, please, no more of the blame game. The citizens of this community are imploring you to just accept responsibility and fix it.