The Georgia Supreme Court has denied Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s petition to appeal a wastewater discharge permit for Forsyth County.
Announced Monday, the decision not to hear the matter effectively lets stand a ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals and could signal the end of a costly, years-long legal battle.
Lewis Jones, an attorney representing the county in the case, was pleased but “not surprised” by the high court’s decision.
“This should let the county move forward and get this project going,” Jones said. “There are some procedural details that need to be wrapped up, but the case is essentially over. There’s nothing further for the court to hear.”
Riverkeeper is still considering other options after learning that its petition was denied, said Juliet Cohen, general legal counsel.
“We still believe the permit issued by EPD is inconsistent with the federal Clean Water Act,” Cohen said.
“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court chose not to hear this case, as this case impacts millions of people who depend on the Chattahoochee River.”
The permit, once finalized, will give Forsyth the ability to release 6 million gallons per day of treated wastewater from its Fowler plant into the Chattahoochee River.
The fight dates to 2010, when Riverkeeper challenged the permit the county received from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The environmental advocacy group argued that the allowable pollutant levels for the discharge into the Chattahoochee were "unnecessarily weak."
Though Riverkeeper launched the suit against the EPD, Forsyth joined to defend the permit and hired law firm King & Spalding to represent it.
As of this month, the county commission had authorized $527,800 in attorneys’ fees on the case.
The initial ruling in the Office of State Administrative Hearings, which came in June 2011, favored Riverkeeper and set revised pollutant levels if the permit were to be reissued.
Forsyth County Superior Court, as well as state appellate court, both found that the administrative law judge had exceeded her scope of authority by ordering the EPD director to change the permit limits.
The Fowler plant also holds a seasonal permit, which allows discharges into the Chattahoochee during the colder months.
While the year-round permit has been on hold, the seasonal one was not affected by the legal battle.