The state of Alabama and the city of Fairhope reached a settlement agreement over excessive sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) last month, ending a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and Attorney General’s Office in 2020.
According to the complaint, the city violated several permit requirements for reporting and discharging pollutants from its wastewater treatment plant between April 2015 and April 2020, a period when the city documented more than 99 SSOs, which released approximately 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater in the waters of the state.
The settlement agreement, accepted by Circuit Court Judge Scott Taylor on Aug. 13, said the objective is compliance with the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act, “and to resolve certain issues alleged by the state and ADEM in the complaint as well as violations similar in nature that have continued to occur since the time of the filing of the complaint.”
The city was assessed a civil penalty of $105,000, with the fines to be equally split between the state general fund, ADEM and the AG’s Office. Further, the city agreed to comply with the terms and conditions of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and take a number of remedial actions.
Primarily, the city must prepare and submit a detailed engineering report addressing the “need for changes in maintenance and operating procedures, the potential for infiltration and inflow, the need for modification of existing treatment and collection system works, and the need for new or additional treatment and collection system works as necessary to achieve compliance.”
The report, due within 120 days of the settlement, will include a compliance plan the city will be obligated to complete before Oct. 31, 2024, when the agreement may be terminated upon certification of completion.
Specific terms of the agreement require the city to develop an SSO response plan, an SSO and surface water assessment and a public notification plan, and adopt minimum standards of procedure for operation and maintenance of the wastewater treatment system. The city must provide quarterly progress reports to ADEM.
The settlement was similar to one reached between the state and neighboring Daphne Utilities in 2019, where it was alleged some 1.7 million gallons of untreated wastewater were released into state waters between 2015 and 2017.
Last year, the AG’s Office also filed suit against the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS) alleging the utility “caused or allowed” unpermitted discharges, while reports “indicate that [ADEM], the public and/or the county health department were not notified of the SSOs as required.”
The complaint listed hundreds of SSOs between 2015 and 2020 that resulted in the discharge of tens of millions of gallons of untreated wastewater. According to court records, that case is currently in mediation.
Fairhope Mayor Sherry Sullivan did not respond to requests for comment on this article.
Photo | The Fairhope Times
ADEM Fairhope settlement agreement
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