The city of Gulf Shores has ordered the state’s largest private sewer utility to cease and desist the use of an unpermitted sludge pond it constructed next to a residential neighborhood last year. On May 11, the city sent a letter to Baldwin County Sewer Service (BCSS), noting the construction of the pond at its Fort Morgan Wastewater Treatment Plant constitutes a violation of the city’s zoning ordinance.
Separately, the facility is the subject of a public hearing Thursday, where the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) will listen to citizens’ concerns regarding the utility’s application to increase the treatment capacity of the plant.
In the letter, Zoning Administrator Andy Bauer explains the plant was designated a “nonconforming use” when the property was initially annexed into the city in 2011. Although the surrounding neighborhood is designated a “residential/medium-density single-family district” in the zoning ordinance, the plant itself is classified as an “essential services facility,” which is not permitted in a residential district.
Bauer noted the city has received “numerous complaints from residents … of offensive, noxious odors emitted from the pond that are permeating outdoor and indoor air within homes,” adding he personally “experienced the pungent odors emanating from the new pond while walking and driving” in the adjacent subdivision.
“These odors cause unreasonable interference with neighboring property owners’ abilities to enjoy their properties and constitute both a public and private nuisance,” he wrote. “The construction of the sludge pond represents an expansion of a nonconforming use, and operation of the pond shall be discontinued immediately.”
Bauer also warned the utility it must take immediate steps to mitigate the odors and submit a land disturbance permit “with construction plans for filling the unpermitted pond,” or face enforcement consequences.
According to Rhonda Caviedes, a Texas-based attorney whose parents live within 100 feet of the sludge pond, the utility initially cleared the site last year, before building what she characterized as a lined “lagoon” encompassed by an earthen berm. Caviedes alleges BCSS began pumping sewage into the pond in February.
“Since then, horrible, noxious odors assault you when you walk outside most days,” she said. “Just a few weeks ago, swarms of insects appeared, covering the property and my car.”
Earlier this year, BCSS submitted an application to ADEM to increase the capacity of the Fort Morgan plant from 1.2 million gallons per day to 2 million gallons per day. In response, dozens of neighboring property owners submitted public comments to the state in opposition, primarily concerned about the effects the plant has on water quality in Little Lagoon.
Consequently, ADEM scheduled a public hearing on the application this Thursday, May 19, at 6:30 p.m. at the Eric H. Meyer Civic Center located at 1930 W. 2nd St., Gulf Shores. ADEM representatives will also be available for two hours prior to the hearing — in the Gulf Shores Activity Center at 260 Clubhouse Drive — “to answer questions and provide details regarding the Baldwin County Sewer Services’ proposed permit modification.”
220511 BCSS Zoning Violation Letter (1)
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