Originally created 06/20/00

Residents oppose sludge request



LOUISVILLE, Ga. - Augusta's leftover sewage sludge has no place in Jefferson County, residents told state regulators Monday night.

About 275 people packed the county courthouse, and nearly all of them asked Georgia's Environmental Protection Division to reject Augusta's request for permits to apply sludge to 558 acres of Jefferson County farmland.

Ralph Yarborough, chairman of the Ogeechee River Valley Association, said state regulators have a long history of compromising the environment by issuing permits and not enforcing them.

"You can't trust these people," he said. "We'd be better off if the EPD officials were locked up and all the prisoners were turned loose."

Monday's public hearing was to discuss a request by Augusta to expand its list of approved sludge distribution sites to include the Jefferson County farm owned by Ronnie Hudson and an 86-acre parcel in Richmond County.

Sludge is a byproduct of sewage treatment, and about 9,000 tons of the substance are trucked from Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Plant each year to more than 30 sites across Richmond, Burke and Jefferson counties.

Much of the area in Jefferson County sought for the new application site lies over a significant groundwater recharge area and should be protected - not dumped upon, said John Lewis, a civil engineer.

"If you make a mistake - even one little mistake - it's going to be in your drinking water," he said.

EPD has no business even considering an application, given Augusta's 20-year track record of failing to police industries that dump toxic chemicals and metals into the wastewater system, he said.

He asked EPD instead to consider a moratorium on all new industrial sewage taps in Augusta until the city can clean up its environmental compliance problems. He also asked that EPD require Augusta to separate industrial waste from domestic household waste, which is much easier to treat.

Clay Sykes, regional vice president of the company hired 10 months ago to operate Augusta's Messerly plant, told residents his company - OMI - intends to make every industry in Augusta comply with every environmental law.

"We follow the exact letter of the law," he said. "We inform EPD when something happens. We don't wait for them to come out and catch us doing something."

Residents have formed a group called Citizens Against Sludge Pollution and have enlisted support from the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest in efforts to persuade the EPD to reject Augusta's request.

David Bullard, manager of EPD's municipal permitting, compliance and enforcement program, said state and federal laws require permits for any sludge disposed of in places other than landfills.

Those permits, he said, must include limits on pollutants in addition to reporting and monitoring requirements.

Augusta already has an approved sludge management program, and the request now under debate is to amend that document.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.