A state administrative hearing has been set for Jan. 24 to examine the validity of a wastewater discharge permit Forsyth County recently received from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
In September, Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper filed an appeal against the permit, arguing that the allowable pollutant levels were “unnecessarily weak.”
The permit, issued Aug. 18, grants the county the ability to release 6 million gallons per day of treated water from its Fowler wastewater facility into the Chattahoochee River.
The facility in south Forsyth currently discharges about 3 mgd, but the additional capacity for Fowler and the planned Shakerag plant are intended to serve future needs.
According to a news release from Riverkeeper, Judge Kristin Miller has dismissed all but one of the six counts brought forth in the petition, leaving one issue for the January evidentiary hearing.
The question remains “whether the pollutant levels set forth in the Fowler/Shakerag permit represent a necessary degradation of water quality based on technical and economic feasibility of alternative treatment levels, or whether such degradation is unnecessary.”
Tim Perkins, Forsyth County’s director of water and sewer, said officials were pleased that five of the six counts were dismissed and feel confident in defending the final issue at hand.
“Basically, [the judge] has to decide whether or not this discharge is authorized and that it’s necessary to accommodate social and economic development,” Perkins said. “Our attorneys feel like it will be easy to prove that. Our side is happy with the ruling and where it is so far.”
The Riverkeeper organization also felt the judge ruled favorably in her order last week on what it considered to be the key issue of antidegradation.
Executive director Sally Bethea said in a statement that the group will “show that because it is feasible for the new Shakerag facility to produce a higher quality of effluent that will not degrade the river, the county will not be able to show that it is necessary to degrade the water in the [Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area].”
Perkins said the plant is capable of treating at a higher quality, but so are many other plants along the Chattahoochee.
“We’re just asking to be treated like the other dischargers,” he said. “We don’t want our people to have to pay for treating wastewater at a higher level than the other users in the river.”
Following the evidentiary hearing, Perkins said, the judge will issue a ruling on whether the limits set on pollutants discharged are adequate per state antidegradation laws.
The county has hired the King & Spalding law firm to represent its interest in the case, for a cost of up to $200,000.