published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Georgia fines LaFayette $6,000 for sewage spill

LaFAYETTE, Ga. — City employee Jim Speir told the LaFayette City Council this week that he hoped to get state regulators to reduce a $6,000 fine for a January sewage spill.

Council members wished him well.

"I've just got a problem when this was an accident, and they're charging us $6,000," Councilman Wayne Swanson said Monday night.

But the state stuck with the $6,000 fine after Speir, director of LaFayette's Water, Wastewater and Sewerage Department, met Tuesday afternoon with officials from the Cartersville office of the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Speir had some good news, though.

"Our fine was initially $12,000," Speir said. "We got credit for how quickly we responded and the minor impact to the receiving stream."

The spill of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of raw sewage into Chattooga Creek occurred Jan. 23 at a sewage station 25 feet underground at Shattuck Industrial Boulevard. A valve failed, causing the facility to flood, which resulted in electrical shortages and pump failures.

The city reported the spill, set up a temporary pump to bypass it and then city employees worked around the clock for a week to fix the pump station. Work included removing and later reinstalling two 500-pound electric pumps that were sent to Rome Electric for repair.

Testing at the time showed the spill had minimal impact on Chattooga Creek's oxygen levels, Speir said.

State Environmental Specialist Kevin Dallmier said fines based on a formula are automatic for creeks that feed the Coosa River.

"Anything in the Coosa basin, any spill, is going to generate a fine," he said. "The Coosa basin is a zero-tolerance watershed, you might say, so there is always a fine associated with any spill."

Speir said he would like to upgrade the lift station to reduce the likelihood of another spill. But that's not going to happen soon, he said, because the work would cost between $750,000 and $1 million.

"I'd love to [replace it]," Speir said. "It's on our five-year capital plan."

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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