Are Georgia EPD Fines High Enough?

22 11 2008

by Calvin Sneed | News Channel 9

It seems that more and more raw sewage is leaking into our creeks and rivers. Even this coming Monday, the city of Fort Oglethorpe plans to manually haul off tons of raw sewage, to bypass a pumping station that it’s repairing, where nearby residents say, it’s been leaking sewage for years. The fines for violations like that in Georgia are shockingly low, which made us wonder, how low can they go? A NewsChannel 9 investigation reveals at least one conservation group that thinks, the fines in Georgia are way too low to provide much incentive to stop the pollution of our waterways..

It seems the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, whose responsible for enforcing sewage violations in the state’s creeks and rivers, has been very busy in Catoosa County. “They collected over 41-thousand dollars in fines for violations to water quality standards, just in Catoosa County this year,” says Shana Udvardy with the Georgia Conservancy, a statewide environmental watchdog group.

We know where some of those fines came from. Back in June, a NewsChannel 9 investigation discovered raw sewage flowing directly into South Chickamauga Creek, from the Morris Estate Sewage Treatment Pond. As a result of our investigation, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division leveled a one-thousand dollar fine on the pond’s owner, the city of Ringgold. Just in the past two weeks, we discovered two separate sewage leaks at a pumping station on Steele Road. The city of Fort Oglethorpe was fined TWO, one-thousand dollar penalties. Those two problem areas, just THIS year. And then, there’s the Mitchell Acres Sewage Treatment pond about a mile-and-a-half away, also owned by Fort Oglethorpe. It’s scheduled to be closed, but as of today, is still accepting raw sewage for treatment. Since 2002, there have been 11 violations of sewage pollution into West Chickamauga Creek. At 500 dollars per violation, that adds up to 55-hundred dollars in fines.

“Clearly, the fines are not enough for industries that are polluting,” says Ms. Udvardy. The Georgia Conservancy says, the E-P-D should charge a fee to each municipality that treats sewage. That fee would fund enforcement of violations. The agency says, current fines do not provide enough incentive, to make municipalities see how important it is, to protect the environment.

Making the situation worse, are budget cuts of 6 per cent, 8 per cent and 10 per cent, coming next year, to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources budget, some cuts that would come from its Environmental Protection Division. “Our agency also believes those cuts will eventually hurt enforcement of pollution violations,” Ms. Udvardy says.

The fines in Tennessee are a litte more severe. If a discharge does not reach a creek, stream or river in the Volunteer State, the minimum fine is a thousand dollars involving a minor sewage treatment system, and 25-hundred dollars for a major one.. If the discharge does reach a creek, stream or river, the minimum fine is 25-hundred dollars for a minor system, and 5-thousand dollars for a major system. Each situation is different, and even the Department of Environment and Conservation, which enforces the penalties is itself, facing cuts next year..

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