Yadkin Riverkeeper to move forward with lawsuit

Thomasville: Settlement presented not acceptable
Mar. 14, 2014 @ 01:38 PM

Following a series of recent spills and an inability to reach a settlement, Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc. has elected to move forward with its lawsuit against the City of Thomasville for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act.

Riverkeeper and Executive Director Dean Najouks on Friday said Thomasville City Council rejected terms of a settlement on a lawsuit filed in November by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). The two sides had been working toward an agreement for several weeks. The decision to move forward with the lawsuit comes a one week after more than a million gallons of untreated wastewater spilled into waterways as a result of the March 7 ice storm.

“We are disappointed with Mayor Joe Bennett and the poor leadership of the Thomasville City Council who rejected very achievable settlement terms preliminarily agreed to by the city manager and attorney,” Najouks said. “People living downstream on High Rock Lake will be extremely disappointed to find out Thomasville voted against the terms of the agreement to fix its failing sewage system only to have another totally preventable sewage spill totaling over one million gallons.”

Councilman Neal Grimes said a presentation was made regarding a settlement, but the offer had not been agreed upon by City Attorney Paul Mitchell nor City Manager Kelly Craver.

“We had a consensus agreement that [the settlement] was not acceptable as presented,” Grimes said. “It was not very achievable. The city manager and attorney agreed that they would present it to council. There were several complaints and sticking points that the [SELC] and the Riverkeeper made that were proven to be satisfied except one or two. We still have some issues. There was a resolution presented by the [SELC] about some restrictions that we were to continue to abide by which we have not agreed to. ”  

The City of Thomasville reported three wastewater spills from March 7 and 8 at its East Davidson, Northside and Pilot pump stations. A power failure at the Pilot Sanitary Pump Station resulted in an estimated 559,639 gallons of untreated wastewater spilling into Jimmy Creek in the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin. A similar failure at the Northside Sanitary Sewage Pump Station caused an estimated 493,848 gallons of wastewater to spill into Hanks Branch. Another 78,904 gallons spilled from the East Davidson Sanitary Sewage Pump Station into South Hamby Creek as a result of heavy rains from the March 7 storm.

City Manager Kelly Craver said the city only had one backup power generator for all three pump stations and elected to put it at the East Davidson facility, which he said had been a “sore spot for spills recently.”

“Backup generators could have easily prevented Thomasville's most recent sewage spill,” said Najouks.

The city is spending more than $5 million to rehabilitate its aging infrastructure through a series of projects, including the installation of two additional backup generators at Northside and East Davidson.

Thomasville has reported more than 100 spills over the past five years, Najouks said, resulting in millions of gallons of untreated wastewater reaching local waterways.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.