DeKalb groups: EPA’s sewer mandate is weak

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The federal Environment Protection Agency’s mandate for DeKalb County to improve its sewer system is a “slap on the wrist” with little oversight and weak penalties, DeKalb residents said.
On Wednesday, six DeKalb environmental groups asked the EPA to issue stricter penalties for DeKalb’s continued sewage spills, hoping added pressure from the EPA would guarantee speedier clean up of affected rivers and streams.
In December, the EPA issued a consent decree, mandating DeKalb upgrade its sewer system after reporting more than 800 raw sewage spills in five years. The decree, which DeKalb spent 14 months negotiating with the federal government, also includes a $453,000 fine for the spills and an additional $600,000 to clean up the South River, Snapfinger Creek and the South Fork on Peachtree Creek near Emory University.
Since then, the county commission has authorized $1.35 billion in upgrades to its sewer system, which will be paid for by increases in residents’ water and sewer bills.
However, the county has not announced any timeline or clean-up plans for the spills, which continue to occur daily, residents said.
“My concern is that taxpayers are having to foot that huge bill in increased water rates. I feel there needs to be more accountability,” said Gil Turman, president of the South DeKalb Neighborhood Coalition. “We’re in this because of a lack of accountability. For 20 years, the county has been negligent and having sewage spills so regularly. And now they just get a slap on the wrist.”
Turman’s coalition, along with the DeKalb Soil and Water Conservation District, the Miners Creek Circle Civic Association, the Metropolitan Atlanta Urban Watershed Institute, the Newly Organized Citizens Requesting Aquifer Protection and the South River Watershed Alliance, submitted a 12-page letter Wednesday to the federal government demanding stricter oversight. Wednesday was the deadline for the public comment period.
A spokeswoman for the EPA said her agency and the U.S. Department of Justice will evaluate all of the comments and then make a decision as to whether to issue tougher penalties.
Ted Rhinehart, DeKalb’s deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure, said the county had not reviewed the residents’ comments, but said DeKalb believes the decree is “fair, reasonable and in the public interest.”
Federal law allows the EPA to charge the county up to $37,500 a day for spills, but the decree only says fines of up to $500 can be charged per spill.
“It doesn’t seem like they would have much incentive if they are not complying,” GreenLaw attorney David Deganian told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Greenlaw, an Atlanta-based environmental legal group, drafted the residents’ letter.
Residents said they worry DeKalb could end up like Atlanta, which signed a consent decree in 1998 committing to $4 billion in water upgrades, but has been given several extensions.
“This is a problem that has gone on for decades. As we have learned from the City of Atlanta, there are no simple solutions and significant oversight is very important,” said Justine Thompson, GreenLaw’s executive director. “We don’t think there are adequate assurances that the consent order terms will be met.”
DeKalb officials said they have been trying to avoid the high costs and legal battles that plagued Atlanta by moving forward with the work.

Find a park along South Fork

Use this map link to find a park near you along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek:

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&source=embed&msa=0&msid=216162315370426453646.0004951ad1910d8473018&ll=33.801118,-84.319382&spn=0.107127,0.2635&t=h&z=13

DeKalb reports major sewage spill near Emory Briarcliff Campus

By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
DeKalb County officials say 12,600 gallons of raw sewage spilled near Emory University’s Briarcliff Campus off Briarcliff Road on Thursday, 9 December 2010.
A sewer pipe under Hancock Drive in Briarwood Hills burst, spilling the untreated sewage into a tributary of Peachtree Creek behind the college’s Briarcliff campus (formerly GA Mental Health Institute), according to DeKalb watershed management records.
On Monday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a consent decree, mandating DeKalb do $700 million in sewer upgrades. The county has reported more than 800 raw sewage spills in five years.

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced test results for asbestos contamination


The US Environmental Protection Agency announced test results for asbestos contamination of public land along the South Fork of Peachtree Creek Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. The news encouraged green space supporters hoping to build trails for public use near the creek.
Last spring federal agents gathered soil and air samples near the trail site, looking for remaining traces of asbestos from a closed vermiculite processing plant at Zonolite Road near Emory University. The results revealed at a community meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Sheridan Road found no measurable asbestos on most of the site.  Only at one site did the  EPA find what it called “barely detectable” asbestos contamination.
EPA coordinator Terry Stilman says “the risks from exposure to airborne asbestos are very low for recreational users.” 
Neighbors  want a creek side trail linking the park to Daniel Johnson-Herbert Taylor Park just upstream, across Johnson Road, and a community garden in the 13 acres now owned by DeKalb County. Another large public park, the Morningside Nature Preserve, is nearby downstream.  
The single spot still suspected of contamination is a mound or plateau about 170 x 250 feet, between the former Zonolite plant and the South Fork of Peachtree Creek.  “This site needs some action,” Stilman told a crowd of two dozen neighbors, trail and park supporters, and green space officials from DeKalb County. “It has a barely detectable amount of asbestos present. Without the presence of the plateau, we (The EPA) would not have any stake in this land.” 
The EPA’s stake means pressure on the former manufacturer, WR Grace, to clean up the contamination, allowing the public safe use of the parkland. Failing that, Stilman says EPA Superfund dollars are appropriate for this site, which he called a Legacy Vermiculite Site, one of dozens around the country currently being assessed by the EPA.
The news left DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader enthusiastic for the future of Zonolite Park.  When Stilman said the EPA will design the remedy, neighbor Mike Morton asked if the community would be included in the design. Commissioner Rader said “Yes. I can make that clear, since we own the land.”

Sally Sears, Chair - South Fork Conservancy

“We want a good design, using this flood plain for protecting the creek and allowing the public safe access to a sensitive piece of Piedmont  woodland for trails and recreation,” says Sally Sears, chair of the South Fork Conservancy. 
Rich Sussman, Environmental Coordinator of the Lindbergh-LaVista Corridor Coalition, believes the news is positive for neighbors eager for more green space close to their homes and businesses.  The two organizations lead community work days helping to create trails along the south and north forks of Peachtree Creek, from Lindbergh Drive to Johnson Road.
More samples from the plateau are in EPA hands, taken Monday, December 6, 2010. Stilman says the EPA will analyze the results, and determine a method of reducing the risk by mid-January, 2011.
More information at:   www.epaosc.org/VermiculiteExpansionWRGraceAtlantaGAO144               
EPA information officer: bryant.kyle@epa.gov
Reported by Sally Sears, Chair of the South Fork Conservancy

Results of Environmental Protection Agency Testing

Join us for a meeting convened by DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader at a public meeting to discuss the results of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent testing for contaminants in the county parkland at Zonolite and the South Fork of Peachtree Creek.
Neighbors and groups interested in trail building and public garden planning are invited.
Hear what we can hope for the restoration of this important floodplain in the South Fork Watershed.
Speakers:
Dr. Francis Kung’U, head of DeKalb County Watershed Department
Terry Stilman, EPA on-site coordinator
Jeff Rader, DeKalb County Commissioner
7-8 PM Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1438 Sheridan Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
 For more details, Debbie Schneider in Jeff Rader’s office at dkschneider@dekalbcountyga.gov.

The Voyager on Peachtree Creek

David R. Kaufman’s journey down Atlanta’s forgotten waterway
This report was prepared by Ken Edelstein, with assistance from Joeff Davis, Samantha Simon and Tammy Vinson. Online production by Alejandro Leal.
John Wesley Powell had the Colorado. Lewis and Clark explored the Missouri. For Henry Morton Stanley, it was the Nile.
David R. Kaufman set his sights a bit more modestly. Since he moved to Atlanta as a kid in 1971, Kaufman wanted to uncover the mysteries of Peachtree Creek, a neglected stream that drains the northern half of Atlanta.
Now he’s completed his voyage of discovery. Throughout the 1990s – sometimes with a friend, most often alone – Kaufman descended the North and South forks of Peachtree Creek, as well as some of its tributaries.
What he found by canoe and on foot, and what he recorded with a 4-by-5 camera, was a stream whose rich history and natural beauty has largely been pushed aside by roads, buildings, garbage, pollution – by a city that turned its back on what could be a magnificent resource. Yet remnants of that history and beauty remain. 
Kaufman shares his journey in a book, Peachtree Creek: A Natural and Unnatural History of Atlanta’s Watershed (University of Georgia Press, 2007).
Here are some photos and excerpts. 
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