Last fall, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed legislation which authorized the sale of a $291 million water and wastewater revenue bond.
Her approval came Oct. 31, a week after the Atlanta City Council voted 12-0 to pass the legislation, Resolution 18-R-4330, which included the legislation itself and Exhibit A, a preliminary version of the revenue bond.
Information in Exhibit A generally describes two different wastewater discharge permits issued to Atlanta by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) as part of a federal consent decree. The consent decree requires the city’s full compliance with discharge permits for its combined sewer overflow (CSO) facilities.
A permit for Atlanta’s West Area CSO facilities authorizes discharges into the Chattahoochee River and/or Proctor, Tanyard and Clear creeks. Another permit for Atlanta’s East Area CSO system authorizes discharges into Intrenchment Creek.
Inconsistencies have emerged in an explanation for the cause of 14 major spills of raw sewage into the East Area’s Intrenchment Creek in 2015. The spills are attributed to the reduced ability of a flow transfer system which pumps sewage from Atlanta’s East Area to Atlanta’s West Area Tunnel which is part of the West Area CSO system.
More information about regulatory matters and the 14 spills is supposed to be available in Appendix B, but Appendix B was omitted from the legislation, including presumably what the council approved.
In a Nov. 28 letter obtained by the Neighbor, Marzieh Shahbazaz, EPD’s manager of its watershed compliance program, acknowledged receiving Atlanta’s $365,513 payment for fines due to the 14 major spills in 2015 (plus seven more in 2016) and additional violations, all of which occurred between September 2015 and May 2018.
The Neighbor has also obtained a copy of the response to a Georgia Open Records Act request which was sent to the requestor from Nicholas Deville, records manager with the department of watershed management.
Deville wrote in part, “After meeting with colleagues from various departments this on 6/6/2019, I’ve learned the following as it relates to your open records request: There is NO interconnection with our East CSO System and West CSO System.”
Deville’s response included copies to Bottoms, City Attorney Nina Hickson and Atlanta Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Kishia Powell.
The discrepancy comes as Atlanta residents’ vote to renew the city’s 1% municipal option sales tax (MOST) approaches in March. In an emailed request for comment, the Neighbor asked the four parties involved with the federal consent decree (the city of Atlanta, the EPA, the EPD and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper) the following question: “How can 14 major spills of raw sewage into an East Area creek be attributed to a flow transfer system which pumps raw sewage to the West Area Tunnel if there is no interconnection with Atlanta’s East and West CSO systems?”
EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said that organization is not involved with the city’s revenue bonds, adding “We also are not familiar with the phrase ‘flow transfer system.”
Dawn Harris-Young, spokeswoman for the EPA’s Region 4 Atlanta office, which covers the Southeast, referred to the city of Atlanta regarding the Neighbor’s question on the bond documents. Regarding the Neighbor’s second question about the flow transfer system, she said, "We also are not familiar with the phrase 'flow transfer system.'"
In answering the Neighbor’s first question, Christina Cruz-Benton, a spokeswoman for the department of watershed management, said the city’s East Area (combined sewage) and West Area (combined sewage) storage tunnels are separate systems, adding, “There are NO interconnections between both tunnel systems nor does the city operate a flow transfer system that pumps raw sewage from the East Area to the West Area.”
“The East Area facilities include the East Area WQCF and the Custer Avenue CSCF (combined sewer control facility). When activated, these facilities discharge to the Intrenchment Creek and other receiving streams located in the South River Basin, which generally flows to the east and are tributaries to the Ocmulgee River. Meanwhile, the West Area facilities include the West Area WQCF and the Clear Creek, North Avenue and Tanyard CSCFs. Flows from the corresponding sub-basins are conveyed to the RM Clayton WRC via the West Area Tunnel. During some wet weather events, flows from the West Area Tunnel are diverted to the West Area WQCF to provide additional treatment capacity. Both the RM Clayton WRC and the West Area WQCF discharge to the Chattahoochee River, which generally flows to the south and the west. The three CSCFs, when operating, discharge to Clear Creek, Proctor Creek and Tanyard Creek, which also flow to the Chattahoochee River.”
Cruz-Benton answered the Neighbor’s second question by saying, “The final hard copy of the legislation contains all of the appropriate documents and is available for review at the city clerk’s office.” Only after the Neighbor pointed out the omission of Appendix B did she provide a copy of the final preliminary official statement, which the Neighbor has added to this article and includes Appendix B on page 165.
An email sent to the Riverkeeper seeking comment was not returned at the Neighbor’s deadline.