SELC, Coosa Riverkeeper Intervene in ADEM Suit over Oxford Wastewater Pollution

Birmingham, AL—The Southern Environmental Law Center and Coosa Riverkeeper have filed a motion to intervene in the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM) suit against the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oxford, Alabama.

“The Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant has skirted its responsibilities to the Oxford community for far too long,” said Sarah Stokes, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “In our efforts to ensure that all permit requirements are met and violations are properly reported, we ask that ADEM hold the plant accountable with meaningful, effective enforcement action for the health of Choccolocco Creek and Oxford residents.”

In addition to high levels of bacteria, unpermitted discharges of chlorine and formaldehyde, and sampling and monitoring violations, the Oxford Plant’s polluted discharge frequently causes foul-smelling, visible discoloration of Choccolocco Creek downstream from the discharge point.

Floating Fun LLC, a local recreational tubing company, reported it has had to turn away customers due to water quality issues on Choccolocco Creek during what would usually be peak summer months for tubing, paddling and swimming.

“Not only does the pollution of Choccolocco Creek pose serious health risks for Oxford’s citizens, it also puts the recreational value of this area and the local businesses who depend on clean water at risk,” said Coosa Riverkeeper, Frank Chitwood. “After 25 years of violations, there is clearly a critical need for a long-term solution--ADEM must act in the interest of Oxford residents and their right guaranteed by law to safely swim, paddle and fish.”

Click here to read the motion to intervene.

Background:

On August 3rd, 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.

Samples taken by Coosa Riverkeeper in each of the past six months have shown that the Oxford Plant discharged extremely high concentrations of E. coli, some results showing levels hundreds of times greater than the permit allows. The sampling results also show high levels of chlorine, which can harm fish and other wildlife. The plant failed to report any of these violations.

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 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.

SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper charge that the Oxford Plant has discharged pollutants at unpermitted locations. 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.

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, but the plant has failed to fix these issues.

The Oxford Plant receives discharges from 12 industrial facilities in the area, all of which are required to pay service fees to the wastewater facility. However after 25 years of violations, the plant has received only one $20,450 fine in its history, which amounts to one year in fees from one industrial discharger alone.

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About Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. 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

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