Federal Court Rules Conservation Groups Can Proceed with Oxford Wastewater Violation Claims
Oxford, AL—A federal court has ruled that the Southern Environmental Law Center and Coosa Riverkeeper can proceed with claims against the Oxford Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant.
In response to a motion to dismiss filed by the Oxford Water Works and Sewer Board, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama rejected arguments that the claims were barred, and ruled that the conservation groups could move forward with claims pertaining to the Oxford Plant’s discharge of high levels of E.coli, chlorine, and unpermitted discharges of formaldehyde into Choccolocco Creek.
“We are very pleased with the Court’s ruling, which underscores the gravity of the violations at the Oxford Plant—these are not small, insignificant issues caused by an occasional mistake or oversight,” said Sarah Stokes, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “After 25 years of violations at the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant, we cannot afford to allow history to repeat itself at the expense of clean water for the Oxford community.”
“It is unacceptable for the Oxford Plant to shirk its responsibilities and put the burden of unchecked pollution on its citizens,” said Coosa Riverkeeper Frank Chitwood. “Clean water is especially critical during this time of year when so many families and visitors view Choccolocco Creek as a destination spot for swimming, tubing, paddling and fishing. No one should have to worry about whether they might get sick from simply enjoying this special waterway.”
Sampling results taken by Coosa Riverkeeper have shown that the Oxford Plant has discharged extremely high concentrations of E. coli, some results showing levels hundreds of times greater than the permit allows. Coosa Riverkeeper monitors Choccolocco Creek for its popular Swim Guide program approximately one mile downstream of the Oxford Plant, and has issued water quality alerts for E.coli in the area for four out of nine weeks so far this summer.
The Oxford Plant has also discharged high levels of chlorine, which can harm fish and other wildlife, and has released unpermitted discharges of formaldehyde, potentially from Kronospan, a nearby fiberboard plant.
On August 3, 2016, SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue against the Oxford Water Works & Sewer Board for ongoing violations of its pollution discharge permit and for failing to follow reporting and monitoring requirements.
SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper filed a federal lawsuit on October 24, 2016, charging that the Oxford Plant has discharged pollutants in violation of its permit. The Oxford Plant has also submitted incomplete or inconsistent reports, has failed to report its noncompliance notifications as required by the permit, and has violated required sampling methods, with 800 monitoring violations in the last three years alone.
A majority of the violations have occurred at the outfall on Choccolocco Creek, a major tributary of the Coosa River and a popular place for paddling, swimming and fishing, and the base for Floating Fun, LLC, a prominent tubing business in the area. The Oxford Plant’s polluted discharge frequently causes foul-smelling, visible discoloration of Choccolocco Creek downstream from the discharge point.
The main access point for Floating Fun, LLC’s tube float trips is located approximately one mile downstream of the treatment plant effluent. Less than 25 miles downstream from the treatment plant, Choccolocco Creek empties into Logan Martin Lake, another prime fishing spot frequently visited by boaters, paddlers, and swimmers.
ADEM and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are aware of some of the compliance issues and have instructed the plant to follow proper protocol around sampling methods and reporting.
In addition to the federal suit against the Oxford Water Works and Sewer Board, SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper have intervened in a state suit brought by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), 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 the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About Coosa Riverkeeper:
Coosa Riverkeeper is a citizen-based river conservation group driven by science and policy with a desire to protect, restore and promote the Coosa River of Alabama. We work towards our vision of a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Coosa River by actively addressing the issues that threaten it. Our team educates our fellow citizens in the Coosa Valley about the importance of our water resources and why we need to protect them. We invite you to explore our informative website and learn more about the Coosa River and Coosa Riverkeeper. www.CoosaRiver.org