Federal Court Approves Flint Riverkeeper and Southern Mills’ Resolution of Clean Water Act Suit
Macon, GA—Today, a federal judge approved an agreement reached between Flint Riverkeeper, neighboring property owners, and Southern Mills, Inc. to resolve a citizen suit brought by Flint Riverkeeper and the neighboring property owners under the Clean Water Act concerning wastewater discharges at Southern Mills’ Molena plant.
Southern Mills is a manufacturer of inherently fire-resistant fabrics. Flint Riverkeeper’s citizen suit filed in 2016 alleged that industrial wastewater from the dyeing and finishing of textiles at Southern Mills’ Molena plant was illegally leaving the boundaries of its land application system and polluting nearby groundwater and tributaries of the Flint River. In response, Southern Mills denied the allegations and asserted that it operated its land application system in compliance with law and that any environmental impacts from its operations did not harm human health or the environment.
A land application system is a wastewater treatment method that involves treating the wastewater through a series of aerated ponds and then spraying it onto large spray fields, located on Southern Mills’ property where the wastewater receives further treatment through absorption in the soil and plant uptake. Southern Mills currently operates the system under a permit issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). Since 1988, Southern Mills has operated under permits and requirements managed by EPD. The permits require renewal every five years and the current permit was issued in 2014.
Under the consent decree entered by the Court, Southern Mills agreed to meet new limits for certain pollutants in the wastewater sprayed onto the spray fields. To meet these new limits in the next five years, Southern Mills agreed to invest in and construct significant improvements to its aeration ponds and wastewater pretreatment system. These new limits exceed limits currently required by state or federal agencies. Flint Riverkeeper contends that the new limits are necessary to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act.
As part of the consent decree, Southern Mills also agreed to dispose of any waste generated by the improvements in a permitted landfill, implement measures to increase the treatment capacity of the spray fields, and to conduct additional and more frequent soil and water sampling. Southern Mills will also provide funding for Flint Riverkeeper to monitor the decree and for American Rivers to improve the Flint River watershed.
“We are pleased the company has worked with us and the private property owners to resolve this case,” said Gordon Rogers, the Flint Riverkeeper. “The new effluent limits and improvements to the company’s wastewater treatment system should substantially improve water quality, both for the waters immediately adjacent to the site and for nearby tributaries. The improvements also may have the ancillary benefit of controlling odors near the plant. We will ensure that the improvements are implemented and look forward to partnering with the company going forward to protect the Flint River watershed.”
Company representative, Mike Anderson, stated “Southern Mills has remained a vital part of the Georgia manufacturing base and the Upson County Community for over 26 years. We remain committed to the vital resources of all communities in which we operate. We have agreed to invest in and achieve these unprecedented and negotiated limits to be both a leader and partner to ensure the Flint River basin continues to thrive for future generations.”
Flint Riverkeeper was represented by attorneys Hutton Brown and April Lipscomb with the Southern Environmental Law Center and Donald D.J. Stack and Tyler Sniff with Stack & Associates, P.C. in Atlanta. The private property owners were represented by Stack and Associates, P. C.
About Flint Riverkeeper: The Flint Riverkeeper (FRk) was established in 2008 to address the various issues that are threatening the Flint River and its tributaries in the face of unprecedented growth in Atlanta and outlying areas. FRk is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation with the goal of protecting the Flint River in its most natural state for future generations to enjoy. www.flintriverkeeper.org
About Southern Environmental Law Center: For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About Stack & Associates, P.C.: Stack & Associates, P.C. is a leading private environmental law firm founded in 1993 by Donald D.J. Stack. The attorneys at Stack & Associates, P.C. represent citizens, municipalities, and for-profit and nonprofit corporations throughout the Southeast in environmental and land use/zoning matters. www.stackenvirolaw.com