Augusta is still paying fines - $200,000 the past two months alone - for spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into Rae's and Crane's Creek. These fines are levied by the state Environmental Protection Division for failing to meet a court-ordered deadline to reduce pollution violations at the Messerly Wastewater Plant.
The city agreed, as part of a settlement to a federal lawsuit, to build a series of artificial wetlands, using natural vegetation, to filter impurities from treated sewage. That was four years ago - plenty of time for the wetlands to be built and the problem to be fixed, but it hasn't happened and the fines keep coming. Why?
Indeed, three wetland "cells" were completed soon after the settlement was inked and though they're effective, they still aren't enough to get the fines off the city's back.
More wetlands were needed to bring the water quality up to federal Environmental Protection Agency standards, and the cells were slated to go in near the Bush Field airport, but then the Federal Aviation Authority stepped in claiming the marshes would endanger nearby air traffic by attracting too many birds.
Hence, the city found itself in a cross fire between two regulatory federal bureaucracies: the EPA telling it to build the wetlands for water safety and the FAA telling it not to for aircraft safety - a classic case of the government's left hand not knowing what its right hand is doing. If it didn't cost local taxpayers so much, it would be funny.
After a delay of 18 months, however, new cells are going in and, according to Mayor Bob Young, that should bring the city into water standard compliance before long, and end the fines. Just keep your fingers crossed that the FAA won't put a damper on Augusta Regional's master plan to attract more airlines.
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