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Review granted in permit squabble
Appeals Court to take up matter
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Forsyth County News


At the request of an environmental advocacy group, the Georgia Court of Appeals has agreed to review a recent ruling on a Forsyth County wastewater permit.

The permit, approved in August 2010 by the state Environmental Protection Division, gave the county the ability to release 6 million gallons per day of treated water from the Fowler wastewater facility into the Chattahoochee River.

Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper appealed the permit that September, arguing that the allowable pollutant levels were “unnecessarily weak.”

Judge Kristin Miller of the Office of State Administrative Hearings agreed with Riverkeeper and set revised pollutant levels for a resistance of the permit in June.

However, Forsyth County appealed Miller’s decision to the Forsyth County Superior Court, where Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley reversed the ruling and ordered further review by the administrative law judge.

The appeals court order, dated Monday, is the latest development in the ongoing litigation.

With the notice, the administrative review will remain pending until the appeals court is finished, said Juliet Cohen, legal counsel for Riverkeeper.

At this point, the appellate court process will begin with both sides first submitting written arguments, Cohen said. After that, the court will determine whether to grant a hearing.

“We’re hopeful that the court will make a very thoughtful review and analysis of all the issues,” she said. “And we’re confident that if they do, our concerns will prevail.”

County commissioners prepared for this very possibility last month by authorizing an additional $25,000 for legal expenses, bringing the total to $477,800 so far.

Though Riverkeeper launched the suit against the EPD, Forsyth joined to defend its permit and hired law firm King & Spalding to represent it.

Tim Perkins, the county’s director of water and sewer, felt the attorneys clearly laid out the facts during the Superior Court hearing.

“We are very confident in the permit, and we are also very confident in Judge Bagley’s legal opinion upholding it,” Perkins wrote in an e-mail. “We look forward to defending both before the Georgia Court of Appeals.”

The Fowler plant currently holds a seasonal permit, which allows discharge into the Chattahoochee during the colder months of the year.

As part of the discharge expansion request, the county also applied to receive a year-round permit.

While that permit is on hold, the seasonal one won’t be affected by the court’s decision.