The day before a final vote on a major rate hike to improve its water and sewer system, DeKalb County agreed to pay a $453,000 penalty from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for excessive sewage spills.
The proposed consent agreement between the county and the EPA is a resolution of a joint federal and state complaint filed against the county for violations of the Clean Water Act and the Georgia Water Quality Control Act. The penalty will be split between the federal government and the state of Georgia. The terms of the agreement are subject to review in the U.S. District Court for the northern district of Georgia. The public will have 30 days to make comments about the agreement.
“This proposed consent decree negotiated with DeKalb County will result in targeted cleanups of DeKalb County streams and major long term improvements to the DeKalb County sanitary sewer systems,” said Sally Quillian Yates, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Georgia. “The agreement reflects the strong commitment of the Justice Department to enforce the mandate of the Clean Water Act through working with our colleagues in state and local governments.”
DeKalb County has also agreed to implement a $600,000 stream cleanup project, focusing on debris removal from parts of the South River, South Fork Peachtree Creek and Snapfinger Creek.
“This agreement formalizes implementation of certain sewer programs and improvements, many of which the county is already implementing,” said DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, during a press conference Monday.
On Tuesday, the county’s Board of Commissioners approved $1.345 billion in improvements to DeKalb’s water and sewer system. The improvements will be financed by a 11-percent rate hike each year for three years beginning in 2012. That would mean a customer with county water and sewer services currently using 6,000 gallons per month would see their rates increase from $59.52 in 2010 to $94.41 in 2014.
This is a decrease in the previously-proposed $1.4 billion plan which would have required a 13 percent rate hike. The commission decided to remove the improvements at the Polebridge Wastewater Treatment Plant from the plans because it dealt with future growth, Commissioner Lee May said.
Evidence of the aging system is apparent in Decatur. The railroad crossing at South Candler Street and East College Avenue is closed because of a water main repair under the tracks, according to county spokeswoman Angela Watson. The cause of the break in the 50-year-old, 6-inch line had not been determined, but the county was addressing erosion issues in connection with the repair. On Nov. 30, a manhole on Second Avenue in Decatur was washed away due to a storm, causing a 40,000-gallon spill. Since 2006, there have been 836 county sewer spills.
In addition to the rate hike, the improvements to the water and sewer system will also be funded by $28.4 million in federal bonds which the Board of Commission voted last month to issue.
DeKalb County’s water and sewer system serves more than 730,000 people and 20,000 businesses. It has about 5,200 miles of water and sewer lines, one treatment facility for drinking water and two for waste water.