Originally created 03/31/04

Group calls for stricter penalties



Fifty-eight percent of sewage-treatment plants across Georgia violated pollution-control permits at least once during 2002-03, according to an environmental group that is calling for stricter penalties against violators.

A study by the Georgia Public Interest Research Group found 740 instances from January 2002 to June 2003 in which wastewater plants violated their permits, ranking the state 17th in the nation in violations.

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, which enforces the federal Clean Water Act in the state, should be more aggressive with violators, said Megan Fitzgerald, the research group's environmental associate.

"The last time we checked, they were assessing fines to about half the violators," she said. "Under the Clean Water Act, they can be fined up to $25,000 per day for violations. We're not saying every facility should pay that every time, but EPD definitely should assess fines that will deter pollution."

According to the group's study, the department also should take steps to ensure that each wastewater facility is inspected at least annually, assess fines to deter violators and fully fund its water protection division to increase compliance. Polluters, Ms. Fitzgerald said, should be compelled to pay their fair share of funding enforcement activities.

Kevin Chambers, EPD's director of communications, said the agency already inspects major wastewater plants annually and fines violators.

"We do that already for all major facilities, and for those sites that we know have problems or that we get complaints on," he said. "But are we able to inspect every single facility? No. We don't have the staff."

Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant has a long history of polluting the Savannah River. Since 1999, Augusta has paid $253,600 in penalties for mostly sewage-related matters, according to EPD records.

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

or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.