Valdosta Daily Times

March 2, 2013

What’s worth more?

The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — Four years ago, the City of Valdosta went to extraordinary lengths to keep the Withlacoochee River from overtaking the wastewater treatment plant, organizing sandbag brigades, recruiting hundreds of volunteers from the community and Moody Air Force Base and city officials personally monitored the situation 24/7 until it was resolved. At the time, a plant failure and subsequent sewage discharge was deemed “catastrophic” if it were to occur.

The city has tried to obtain grant money to move the plant and improve the sewer infrastructure, but has done little to ensure a repeat of the 2009 event. So when it occurred again this week, the city took the plant offline on purpose and let the raw sewage flow into the river, at a rate of 5 to 6 million gallons daily. There was no attempt to rebuild the berm so urgently built four years ago.

There has been no statement concerning potential health effects from the millions of gallons of raw sewage poured into the river.

City officials stated that the decision was a monetary one. Councilman Tim Carroll sent a statement to the Times Saturday to lend his support to officials, saying “in the long run it will be less costly to the tax payers. Plus we will be able to more quickly bring it back on line when waters recede,” echoing the utilities director, who acknowledged that the berm was successful in 2009 but expensive.

The city received money from GEMA following the flood in 2009 to reimburse them for costs associated with the damaged plant, but it was far short of the amount needed to rebuild it on higher ground.

So this year, they let the waters into the plant, didn’t try to stop the river from encroaching, and let the sewage flow untreated from 80 percent of the city, including the hospital, into the Withlacoochee River.

When questioned about the reasoning for not protecting the plant from flooding this time, the only answers have been about money. Perhaps if more of the plant is damaged now, FEMA will approve the funding to move and rebuild it. In the long run, the cost benefits of letting it flood and being able to replace it were weighed against environmental harm, and the river lost.

In four short years, dumping raw sewage went from a potential catastrophe to a barely noticed non-issue. In the long run, the community will have to decide if it was worth it.