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Tennessee Riverkeeper to sue Hartselle Utilities over sewer overflows

On the heels of a lawsuit filed against Hartselle Utilities May 28 by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Tennessee Riverkeeper has brought its own lawsuit against HU.

Tennessee Riverkeeper is a non-profit membership corporation dedicated to the preservation, protection and defense of the environment. It actively supports effective enforcement and implementation of environmental laws, including the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act, on behalf and for the benefit of its members.

According to a press release from the organization, Tennessee Riverkeeper is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit under the Clean Water Act against Hartselle Utilities Wastewater Treatment Plant for violations of the CWA and the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act.

The state sued Hartselle Utilities May 28 for 137 sanitary sewer overflows dating back to 2015, including 6.7 million gallons of untreated sewage allegedly discharged in 2020.

The state’s lawsuit also alleges the utility failed to give timely notice to the public, ADEM and the Morgan County Health Department on 35 of the overflows.

Tennessee Riverkeeper sent a notice of intent to sue HU April 16.

“In 2020 there have been 86 sewage overflows from Hartselle totaling more than 6,983,532 gallons of untreated sewage entering our waterways,” said David Whiteside, founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper, in the press release.

In a letter to Bob Sittason, general manager of Hartselle Utilities, Tennessee Riverkeeper attorney Mark Martin said HU’s sanitary sewer overflows are in violation of the CWA and its own National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

Hartselle Utilities reported discharges in the form of sanitary sewer overflows to ADEM – overflows that date back to 2015 and total 7,359,394 gallons.

Riverkeeper said the overflows, which are discharged into Shoal and Flint creeks, are not authorized by the city’s NPDES permit.

Sittason previously said the majority of the overflows listed in the lawsuit and 94.7 percent of the volume of the overflows came in the first four months of this year. The largest SSO in the letter from Martin to HU happened in February, when nearly a million gallons of untreated sewage overflowed at 201 Crescent Drive SW.

“The primary reason for the recent elevated overflow numbers is due to a number of isolated, independent, substantial and intense rain events that occurred in these four months,” he said after ADEM filed its lawsuit.

Decatur Utilities, which was sued by ADEM and the Attorney General’s Office in a similar lawsuit in May 2019, also had numerous sewer overflows in January and February of this year, when heavy rains caused flooding in much of north Alabama. Riverkeeper joined the lawsuit against DU in October 2019.

In a written statement after ADEM filed its lawsuit, Sittason said HU has identified individual manholes in areas where overflows are common during heavy rains. In some of these areas, he said, repairs have been made to limit inflow and infiltration.

Through funds made available through a Community Development Block Grant, Sittason said HU is replacing all customer service lines and sewer mains in the northwest basin of its collection system.

“As a result of the SSOs this past winter, other projects have been identified, and we will begin this summer to replace some of the sewer mains that have failed over time,” he said. “In addition, we have several projects planned for this coming fiscal year to address the other impacted areas.

“HU judiciously considers the projects and the financial resources to fund these projects, taking into consideration our customers and sewer rates.”

He said the SSO problem is not new, and the utility is working to resolve it.

“HU has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve our wastewater collection system and is committed to make the necessary improvements to reduce or eliminate future SSOs,” Sittason added in the statement.