With a little more than two weeks before the city faces the Alabama Department of Environmental Management in court for a civil lawsuit, Mayor Sandy Stimpson made the trek to Montgomery on Jan. 22 to have his first major meeting with ADEM’s director, Lance LeFleur. After the two-hour meeting, Stimpson said it was “productive and positive.”
The city of Mobile and ADEM have a lot of negative recent history. In February 2012, ADEM fined the city $17,750 for not submitting a report for 2008-2009. Then ADEM cited the city for failing to submit a report for 2007 and 2009. The later violation, coupled with other citations, is what led ADEM to sue the city.
ADEM is now asking the Mobile County Circuit Court to fine Mobile $475,000. This will be decided before Mobile Circuit Court Judge Ben Brooks during a Feb. 7 hearing.
The two groups will soon be facing off against each other, but the Jan. 22 meeting was not adversarial.
“This was an opportunity for ADEM to explain face-to-face where the city is and where we should be to be compliant,” Stimpson said. “Their desire and our desire is to comply with regulations. This didn’t happen overnight so we aren’t going to be compliant overnight either.”
The city of Mobile is one municipality that has been trouble for ADEM for more than half of a decade, LeFleur said.
“The city of Mobile has been having significant problems meeting the requirements for storm water permits for at least six years now,” he said. “After seeing virtually no progress in meeting the permit requirements, which are federal requirements we have been given, the situation escalated until where ADEM filed a petition in court last summer to determine what should occur with Mobile’s storm water system. ADEM also asked for a substantial penalty as well.”
With the history between ADEM and the city of Mobile, LeFleur said it was important that Stimpson be fully aware of the situation.
“The meeting (on Jan. 22) was to try to get the new mayor up-to-speed,” LeFleur said. “Since Mayor Stimpson has been in office, he and his administration have been very cooperative and very interested in trying to resolve this.
“The meeting today was just one of a number of steps in which the new administration took toward complying with permit regulations.”
Stimpson was also joined in the meeting by two Payne Environmental Services employees — Randy Payne and Gretchen Barrera. The environmental group took over the responsibility of monitoring Mobile’s storm water program from Mobile Group Inc., which had that role for 16 years.
The Jan. 22 meeting also detailed what Payne Environmental Services now has before them. While the company and city has a lot of work ahead of them, there is one area in which Payne Environmental Services can slack off.
“One interesting thing we found out is our annual report for 2013 was 28,000 pages long,” Stimpson said. “We were told the average annual report for other municipalities is 60 to 100 pages long.”
LeFleur also noted the recent reports were not what ADEM wanted.
“The longest report (besides Mobile) ever received was about 600 pages long,” he said. “Mobile’s annual report had a lot of material that was unnecessary. It was more a data dump than an annual report.”
Stimpson said the city and Payne Environmental Services would make sure future reports are within the 60 to 100-page range.
With the Jan. 22 meeting behind and the Feb. 7 hearing before, LeFleur said he was encouraged, but waited for results.
“The meeting was productive and the administration seemed eager to resolve the problem, but as you can say, the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “I think where we are is we will go into court in agreement with the city and discuss the direction of where Mobile should go to be compliant.
“This is a very important problem and I can easily say out of all the municipalities in the state Mobile is far and away one of the farthest from being compliant with permit conditions. It isn’t even a close race with second.”