Senator Montford left the meeting without getting his answers. He and many in the crowd were disappointed that those representing our regulatory agencies (the EPA, DEP and Public Health) did not offer concrete suggestions, especially the EPA, who were unable to speak to the issue. A member of the public expressed her disappointment to the group at the table. Many in the crowd felt the same way, and were asking afterward, “Why did these agencies send representatives who were unable to speak to the issue with authority? We need lawyers.” For those wanting answers the meeting was a waste of time.
It was not only Montford wanting answers, several members of the North Central Florida Regional Task Force and many of the public expressed the same sentiment. Unfortunately, the wrong people came to the meeting.
Four OSFR board members attended this meeting, and we have been following this problem for years.
Your historian’s take on this is that you can profess good will, spend time and spend money, but you cannot control incompetence. But you can divest yourself of it. Accountability is needed and we do not have it in Valdosta.
Read the original article by Stew Lilker here in the Columbia County Observer.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
North Florida News
7.5 Mil Gal of Raw Sewage Headed Into N. FL From Valdosta – FL Sen. Bill Montford Wants Answers
Part I: Florida
Posted January 11, 2020 10:15 am
MADISON, FL – On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, leaders of N FL gathered in Madison County, Florida, to discuss the 7.5 million gallons of raw sewage winding its way into North Florida from Valdosta, GA. This was the biggest sewage spill in decades of spills emanating from Valdosta’s aging infrastructure. This spill was caused by multiple humans making errors.
Florida Senator Bill Montford addressed the attendees: “I have a great appreciation and love for this part of the state. We are here today to talk about something that is a serious threat and a serious issue to North Florida and to Central Florida, as well… Not only are we frustrated, but we’re very concerned from several different perspectives. We have to make sure this issue gets as much attention as it deserves… This issue is just as serious to us as it is anywhere in the state… This state deserves protection and recognition of this issue from our federal government. That’s why we’re here.”
Where Are Georgia Officials?
Senator Montford continued, “Georgia officials were invited to come to this meeting, for whatever reason, they could not attend. We made arrangements for them to call in on the telephone and they have made a decision not to participate in this meeting by phone. That’s their decision.”
“When we leave here today, we’ve got to have some sense of who’s going to do what and when. We cannot tolerate business as usual. We cannot allow this to continue to put our people in harm’s way from a health standpoint and our environment as well. We will not tolerate that.”
Madison County Commissioner Rick Davis explained the events of December 3-9, the seven days when raw sewage was flowing undiscovered into the woods in Valdosta: “A major sewage spill was caused by the negligence of a third party contractor working for the City of Valdosta and the lack of supervision and oversight by the City of Valdosta resulted in an estimated 7.5 million gallons of raw sewage being dumped into Sugar Creek, which flows into the Withlacoochee River.”
Commissioner Davis continued, “As a result of this spill, Hamilton County and Madison County issued local states of emergencies and Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Department of Health issued health advisories warning the public to avoid contact with the rivers.”
Water wells in Madison and Hamilton were and are being tested. Some wells are polluted with unsafe levels of Coliform and E. coli.
Com. Davis reported that Florida citizens, downstream from the spill, “have reported becoming ill from well contamination.”
Poisoning the Environment
Commissioner Davis asked, “How long would our state agencies allow another state or group or entity or government to poison our environment? What measures can be taken?”
John J. Truitt of Florida DEP answered, “We don’t have the jurisdiction over Valdosta. I think Georgia’s DEP version is working on some kind of enforcement action and consent order.”
Mr. Truitt said the state (Florida) can comment on the Georgia consent order and FDEP will keep their eye on it and decide whether or not to comment.
FDEP explained that they were taking water samples “pretty much daily.”
Senator Montford had been taking notes on a little pad on his lap. He spoke up, “We’ve got the data to say we’ve got a problem. What are we going to do about it? That’s why we are here today. What is Georgia going to do, so it doesn’t roll down hill? Enough is enough.”
Florida Representative Chuck Brannan made a distinction between sewage spills caused by rain and those caused by human error and said that he had been hearing that Valdosta has everything under control for a long time.
Consent Order & Fed. Environmental Protection Agency
Senator Montford had invited the Fed’s to the meeting.
Carol Kemker, the Director of EPA Region 4’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division addressed the group.
She spoke to the new consent order now under consideration.
My experience is Georgia is issuing a new order… They are looking for weeks, not months [to issue a new order].”
Ms. Kemker continued, “Georgia is working for there to be improved oversight at the operation of the plant as a whole, not just third parties, but everyone that touches and operates that plant… My understanding is that Valdosta is working on standard operating procedures to help and have better operational controls and accountability, even before an order comes out… It has to be a time frame that matches the urgency, but at the same time is realistically doable by the City of Valdosta.”
Senator Montford interjected, “What authority does the federal government have if Valdosta is just not going to do it?
Blake Ashbee, EPA’s Region 4 Chief of Staff answered, “We’re not Clean Water Act attorneys up here… We can get back to you on that. We’re happy to get an answer to you.”
Senator Montford opined, “I don’t have a lot of hope for this Valdosta issue. I just don’t. The only option we have as Floridians is turn to our federal government and say, ‘What can you do to address this issue?’ If it’s nothin’, let’s tell the people we’re not going to help you… What can we expect from our federal government to assure that Floridians are not harmed by lack of action by another state…? We have Floridians that have been damaged by the inaction of the Georgia Government.”
There was a long pause (deer in the headlights pause).
Mr. Ashbee responded, “Certainly we have oversight authority and if Georgia negotiated a consent order with the City of Valdosta and they weren’t meeting the obligations under the new consent order and meeting the projected timelines, certainly EPA would step in and make sure that the proper procedures and oversight was followed.”
Senator Montford responded, “If this happened in Fort Lauderdale, all heck would break loose.”
It has and it didn’t. Ft. Lauderdale is a mess. “Fort Lauderdale is soaked in waste after six sewage spills from decaying pipes dumped more than 126 million gallons of raw sewage directly into nearby rivers and canals over the last few weeks.
Senator Montford reiterated, “I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding. Georgia was invited to this meeting just like everybody else… They chose not to be here. They chose today not to participate in this meeting by phone. That disturbs me.
Anthony Adams is a straight-talking County Commissioner from Lafayette County. Before public comment began, he addressed the meeting. His sentiments were those of many before this spill.
“I was being heartened by what was being told to us by Valdosta, up until this thing with the failure — the human failure.”
Mr. Adams explained that the spill was released into the environment at the rate of approximately 50,000 gallons an hour.
“That to me conveys a lack of concern from Valdosta. They were not monitoring the inflow into their system.”
The Public: “Give us answers”
Commissioner Davis invited the pubic to speak. While many did, Teena Kulakowski, the first speaker, represented the sentiments of most of the other speakers.
Ms. Kulakowski introduced herself, “My name is Teena Kulakowski. I own property in the campgrounds district of Jasper [Madison County, FL], which is a very financially depressed area. I want to thank all of you for taking all of this so seriously.”
“My background is in environmental health and I’m a microbiologist. This is serious… I’m worried about my neighbors who don’t have phones; who don’t have cable; who don’t get a newspaper. A lot of them don’t even know that this is going on… We need to get out to the public. I am so afraid when all this septic gets here… I worked in a pediatric hospital for years. I worked in geriatrics for a long time. The old and the young; we can survive it – they don’t… I’ll put money down that we’ll have elderly die – misdiagnosed…”
“I’m worried about babies and nobody is talking about that… Give us answers.”
“A lawsuit will take forever. The feds can get things done. We can’t. Who is going to pay to have this stuff done (testing, disinfecting). My neighborhood can’t afford to have a well company come in and do it.”
Part II: Coming tomorrow will report on the meeting in Valdosta at 6 pm