Originally created 02/21/01

Farm joins second suit over sludge

A second lawsuit claiming the city of Augusta's treated sewage sludge poisoned cattle and crops was refiled Tuesday in Richmond County Superior Court.

The plaintiffs, R.A. McElmurray & Sons of Hephzibah, join another family farm, Boyceland Dairy, which filed a similar complaint last week.

Both families sued the city in 1998 in U.S. District Court with similar allegations, but the complaints were dismissed at the federal level after a two-year legal battle that cost the city more than $1.2 million.

The new complaints, which seek unspecified damages, deal solely with state law claims unresolved by the federal court action.

The families contend in the new complaints that Augusta engaged in a pattern of racketeering through its ongoing efforts to mislead the plaintiffs about concentrations of metals in sludge applied to their land.

The city benefited from disposing of improperly treated industrial wastes on plaintiffs' land, leaving the plaintiffs unable to graze cattle or grow food crops on the property, the complaint said.

Sludge, a byproduct of wastewater treatment, is used across the country as a fertilizer. Federal laws governing such applications require testing and other precautions.

The plaintiffs contend sludge from Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Plant was improperly treated and caused toxic levels of copper and cadmium to accumulate in cows' kidneys and livers.

The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial, damages and costs associated with restoring the land to fair market value and legal expenses. A lawsuit represents one side of a dispute; the city of Augusta has not responded and has 30 days to do so.

The McElmurrays are represented by Savannah lawyers John M. Tatum and Robert Mullins. Atlanta attorney Ed Hallman, who represented the dairy farms in the federal complaints, also is listed as counsel for the plaintiffs.

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


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