A key document needed for the city of Atlanta to comply with one of two federal consent decrees monitoring its sewer system is missing, which could be considered a violation of that decree and lead to a fine or other punishment.
In 1994, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a watchdog group, sued the city over federal violations regarding pollution into the river and its tributaries due to Atlanta’s lack of maintenance for its sewer system. After the riverkeeper won the lawsuit, a federal judge issued consent decrees for combined sewer overflows (CSO) and sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
The city must file signed certifications along with any sewer system documents or updates it sends to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to comply with the CSO consent decree. Those certifications, in essence, mean all information the city is submitting to the state or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are “true, accurate and complete” and there are “significant penalties for submitting false information.”
But after the Neighbor received a tip that the city didn’t have any such signed certifications relating to the 2016 East/West combined sewer overflow sampling and monitoring plans, which are required as part of its compliance with the federal consent decree and its permits, the Neighbor filed its own open records request with the city.
In response, Nicolas Deville, the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management’s records manager, said in an email, “The (department) does not have any records responsive to your (Georgia Open Records Act) request.”
A follow-up email to Michael Smith, a spokesman for the Atlanta mayor’s office, in which the Neighbor asked questions seeking comment from the department and its commissioner, Kishia Powell, was not returned.
EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said the state is aware the required signed certification document was missing.
“We will communicate with the city and going forward, documents submitted as required by permit and the consent decree will include any required certification,” he said. “Although the sampling and monitoring plan you inquired about was submitted without certification, all of the requirements of the plan are still enforceable as a permit requirement.”
Dawn Harris-Young, spokeswoman for EPA’s District 4, which includes Georgia, said the matter is between the city and the EPD. A phone message left with the office of U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. of the Northern District of Georgia, who oversees the two consent decrees, seeking comment on the missing document was not immediately returned.
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said the council will look into the matter if the city is punished for the missing document issue.
“I hope we haven’t violated anything, but we do get fined for (sewage) spills and other things,” she said. “I’m sure it will follow the course on what we are required to do.”