Originally created 11/17/99

City to pay fines



Augusta city officials agreed Tuesday to pay state fines totaling $160,000 and implement costly improvements and safeguards to avoid future sewage spills, equipment failures and environmental violations.

City commissioners, in adopting a 23-page consent order negotiated with Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, also agreed to do a better job of maintaining pipelines that carry the city's raw sewage; and improve scrutiny of industries that discharge chemical waste into the sewage system.

The consent order evolved from a Dec. 28 administrative order mandating improvements to the wastewater system. The administrative order followed a December state audit of the city's Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant, prompted by a series of sewage spills and two waste treatment-related lawsuits against the city.

Included among problems state regulators found with the city's wastewater system was the December collapse of a sewer line that backed 1 million gallons of raw sewage into the Savannah River.

The Environmental Protection Division also noted sewage spills into Augusta Canal in April and September 1998 because of failed sections of the city's combined sewer overflow separation project that was supposed to isolate sewer lines from storm drains.

The consent order requires the city to develop a broad series of steps to evaluate the separation project and demonstrate the program's effectiveness. Further separation projects may be required.

Those evaluations will require studies of underground pipelines using closed-circuit television and other monitoring devices. The city also must devote resources to ensure necessary staffing for the improvements.

"This is going to require additional people," City Administrator Randy Oliver said Tuesday. "The time frame calls for us to staff up by July 29 of 2000 and it will involve roughly 18 people."

Other complaints by state officials included broken pumps and equipment, laboratory and records violations, dilapidated infrastructure, poor maintenance and a failure to prosecute industries that discharge chemicals into the sewer system.

The consent order outlines needed improvements in each of those areas.

Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant, built in 1968, was turned over to a private contractor, OMI Inc., on Aug. 7. The contractor has absorbed 30 former city employees.

The city had appealed the state's initial proposed consent order, which called for $184,000 in fines.

Agreement

The city agreed to:

  • Pay fines totaling $160,000.

  • Evaluate and improve projects designed to separate stormwater overflow from sewage pipes.
  • Develop a plan to minimize future pipeline failures because of a lack of preventive maintenance.
  • Conduct routine inspections of all valves, sewer lines eight inches or larger, all rights of way and creek crossings, and submit written reports.
  • Devise an Emergency Response Plan to deal with protecting the public -- and notifying the media -- in the event of future sewage spills.
  • Ensure consistent enforcement of pre-treatment rules for companies that discharge industrial or chemical waste to the city system.
  • Monitor septic tank waste brought to the plant by waste haulers.
  • Violations

    • Major sewage spill into Augusta Canal, April 2, 1998.

  • Major sewage spill into Augusta Canal, Sept. 30, 1998.
  • Major sewage spills into Savannah River, Dec. 1-5.
  • Unauthorized sewage discharge to Phinizy Ditch, Dec. 7-11.
  • Failure to submit required wastewater toxicity tests, 1998.
  • Failure to comply with Sludge Management Plan.
  • Failure to properly revise industrial pretreatment program.
  • Failure to use correct sampling techniques and maintain required records.
  • Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.