Press Release | April 17, 2014

Yadkin Riverkeeper and City of Thomasville Announce Settlement in Clean Water Act Citizen Suit

The City of Thomasville and the Yadkin Riverkeeper announced that they reached a settlement resolving the Riverkeeper’s Clean Water Act citizen suit against the city after numerous, sizeable discharges of wastewater from its collection system into tributaries of the Yadkin River and High Rock Lake.  The parties submitted a proposed settlement agreement to the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.  The proposed settlement will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and, if approved by the Court, will be entered as a binding Consent Decree.  

The proposed settlement requires the City of Thomasville to take actions that will improve its wastewater system and address the causes of its wastewater spills.  The settlement incorporates Thomasville’s Ten Year Capital Improvement Plan, which Thomasville put into place following completion of a Wastewater Collection System Study in December 2009, and which represents a long-term strategy to upgrade and improve the Thomasville Wastewater Collection System.  The settlement commits the city to completing upgrades to areas of the system that were the source of past discharges.  Thomasville is already making progress in upgrading its system:  Project 1 of the Capital Improvement Plan (replacement of the Baptist Children’s Home collector line) has already been completed and important renovations to the East Davidson Pump Station, Northside Pump Station, and North Hamby Outfall line are currently under construction or in final planning.

The parties are confident that by completing the projects which are targeted in the ten year plan, and which will now be required by the Consent Decree, Thomasville will reduce future discharges from its wastewater collection system.

Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks approved of the settlement, stating, “The problem of wastewater spills is not going to be fixed overnight, but this agreement is an important step towards reducing these spills into High Rock Lake and tributaries of the Yadkin River in the long-term.  People in Thomasville and downstream of Thomasville have a right to clean and safe water.”

Thomasville Mayor Joe Bennett observed, “I am glad that we satisfactorily resolved the case and can avoid the unnecessary expense of litigation, and use those resources instead to continue our progress in correcting and upgrading our facilities. I appreciate the continuing good work of our staff which has been implementing these positive changes in cooperation with the City Council over the past few years.”

In addition to completing the ten year plan to which the City had previously committed, Thomasville has agreed to assess the performance of its system beginning in November 2014.  If the city does not experience reductions in the volume and number of significant wastewater spills, the city will reassess its capital improvement plan. In addition, the city agreed to:

• take water quality samples from any large wastewater spills;
• clean 15 percent of its sewer lines each year;
• actively enforce its grease reduction ordinance;
• distribute an annual report to its residents on any spills and its actions to reduce spills; and
• support a Hamby Creek restoration plan. 

The city also stated that it supports a comprehensive strategy to address nutrient pollution in High Rock Lake. If Thomasville fails to meet any deadlines required by the agreement, it will make payments to the Land Trust for Central North Carolina that will be used to support development of the Daniel Boone Paddle Trail and other river recreation opportunities to stimulate ecotourism in Davidson County.

Julie Youngman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented the Riverkeeper, added, “This agreement ensures that Thomasville will take the necessary steps to improve its wastewater collection infrastructure to protect the waters of the Yadkin River.  This agreement is a win for the citizens of Thomasville and for everyone who uses the Yadkin River and High Rock Lake.”

Kelly Craver, Thomasville’s City Manager, stated, “City Staff has worked diligently with NCDENR over the last four years to address sewer collection system improvement needs.  We have three current projects underway and will continue to work with NCDENR to get our planned additional sewer system improvement projects approved, funded and construction completed.  We are all in this together and have the same desired end result, better water quality in High Rock Lake and the Yadkin River.”

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About the 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 almost 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. WEB: www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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Kathleen Sullivan

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Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: ksullivan@selcnc.org