Dothan’s ongoing problem with pervasive sewage overflows has prompted a lawsuit from the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Attorney General Luther Strange and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management filed a complaint in Houston County Circuit Court against the City of Dothan Thursday, claiming the city has repeatedly violated the terms of its wastewater management permits at each of its wastewater treatment plants.
The suit chronicles 248 sewage overflows reported by the city over the past five years, with 189 of them associated with the Little Choctawhatchee Wastewater Treatment Plant. Sewage overflows occur when untreated sewage is discharged into the environment (usually through a manhole on a city street) before reaching a treatment facility.
Some of the sewage finds its way into streams and rivers. The lawsuit claims sewage has found its way into Omussee Creek, Limestone Creek and the Little Choctawhatchee River.
» Read the list of addresses where sewage overflows have occurred in connection with the Little Choctawhatchee Wastewater Treatment Plant here.
» Read the list of addresses where sewage overflows have occurred in connection with the Omussee Wastewater Treatment Plant here.
» Read the list of addresses where sewage overflows have occurred in connection with the Cypress Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant here.
The case has initially been assigned to Circuit Judge Michael Conaway. The suit asks the court to deem Dothan in violation of its wastewater permits and assess a civil penalty for each of the 248 overflows occurring since June of 2011.
The City of Dothan has been under an Administrative Order on Consent with the Environmental Protection Agency since 2012, which requires Dothan to perform a massive overhaul of its aging sewer system. The city spent $44 million on sewer related issues between 2005 and June of 2014, including a $29 million project to double the capacity of the Little Choctawhatchee plant. Since the 2012 EPA order, Dothan has spent much time and money evaluating the entire sewer system to locate problems and creating the programs required by the order to oversee the system. A handful of emergency repairs have been made and the replacement of a major trunk line believed to be responsible for many of the overflows is ongoing. The city will also soon begin updating the Omussee plant at a cost of around $40 million.
The city has further identified 13 priority sewer repair projects. About $7.7 million has been set aside to fund the first six. The remaining seven will cost about $17.7 million.
Late Thursday afternoon the City of Dothan released a statement which read, in part, "The City of Dothan looks forward to responding to the State’s inquiry and providing information demonstrating the City’s commitment to overhauling our aging sewer system in order to provide a fully safe and healthy environment for our citizens. As a progressive City, we are very proud of the work that has been done over the past few years to resolve a sewer issue that took decades to create."