Editor’s note: One year ago, several Dothan commissioners and Mayor Mike Schmitz met with strategic planner Lyle Sumek to determine policy priorities for 2012. Seven top priorities were identified at the conclusion of the meetings. This week, the Dothan Eagle explores each of the priorities and looks back on the progress made in 2012.
Part 7: Resolve wastewater/EPA issues
Progress made: City reached consent decree with EPA
Dothan’s ongoing issues involving its sewer system were unanimously considered the city’s top priority in 2012 when four Dothan commissioners and Mayor Mike Schmitz met with strategic planner Lyle Sumek.
The city had already been working on numerous sewer projects designed to upgrade the city system and decrease raw sewage discharges. Those repeated discharges, known as sanitary system overflows (SSOs) had gotten the city in trouble with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Environmental Protection Agency several years ago when they concluded the city had not made adequate progress in dealing with the issues.
While extensive work took place throughout 2012, the most significant event occurred in July when the EPA and Dothan entered into a consent decree, which requires Dothan to implement an array of system upgrades and institute oversight programs designed to ensure the system is operating properly.
The work of the city leading up to the decree appears to have spared Dothan from major financial penalties, which the EPA could have levied if it felt Dothan was not working toward solving the problem.
“This has been a dark cloud for me,” Schmitz said in July when the commission unanimously signed off on the consent decree. “But to know the city is better off than we were … this is a good day for the City of Dothan.”
Baker-Donelson attorney Adam Sowatzka, who was hired by the city to negotiate with the EPA, said Dothan’s decision to shut down the aging Beaver Creek Wastewater facility and undertake a massive expansion of the Little Choctawhatchee facility helped the city with the final consent order.
Many of the requirements in the consent order force the city to file reports with the EPA to ensure all parts of the city’s sewer system are acting properly and that plans are in place to handle increased capacity and many other issues.
The city held off on approving major new capital projects in part because of the unknown matter concerning potential EPA fines. Since then, the city has begun to discuss construction at James Oates Park.
The EPA requires Dothan to perform the following work to comply with the consent order:
» Within six months of the consent order, Dothan must submit a Sewer Overflow Response Plan that includes detailed plans on how to respond to the overflow, clean up the discharge, report the overflow and notify the affected public.
» Within 33 months of the consent order, Dothan must develop a Capacity Assurance Program that ensures Dothan’s wastewater treatment plants will have the capacity to handle new sewer connections. The program plan must be submitted to the EPA for approval.
» Dothan must also document information on each new sewer connection to the city system.
» Within 12 months of the consent order, Dothan must develop a Pump Station Operation and Preventative Maintenance Program that includes information on regular pump station checks, equipment used, emergency procedures if electricity is lost, and other requirements. Dothan must also verify that all pump stations are in working order.
» Within nine months of the consent order, Dothan must implement a Fats, Oils and Grease Control program to limit material getting into the sewer system that causes the lines to clog. The clogged lines are a cause of many sanitary system overflows. The program must include a public education, inspection and enforcement plan to make sure the program is being followed.
» Within 12 months of the consent order, Dothan must design and implement a Gravity Line Preventive Maintenance Plan that includes details on how to deal with roots in the lines, different types of debris, and a plan to maintain manholes.
» Within 12 months, Dothan must develop and submit to the EPA a comprehensive Continuing Sewer Assessment Program that includes procedures to test the proper operation of all components of the city’s sewer system.
» Dothan must submit written quarterly progress reports designed to keep the EPA updated on the implementation of the consent order requirements.
Dothan can apply to come out from under the consent order once all of the requirements have been implemented and have been in place for two years.