Thomasville: Undefined Riverkeeper terms gag city’s authority

Negociations ongoing
Mar. 25, 2014 @ 01:00 PM

A key snag to a settlement in the lawsuit filed against the City of Thomasville by Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc. centers more around a fledgling policy rather than infrastructure improvements.

City Manager Kelly Craver, in response to a mass email from Yadkin Riverkeeper and Executive Director Dean Najouks, issued a press release defining the sticky point.

Part of the resolution the Yadkin Riverkeeper wants, according to Craver, is for the council to give its unwavering support to the High Rock Lake Nutrient Management program. The resolution also requires that no council members, now or in the future, nor any city employees comment negatively on the yet-to-be developed rules of the program or speak to state legislators about changing its rules or questioning its scientific validity.

In the wake of the recent ice storm that resulted in three more wastewater spills, Najouks in a March 14 email claimed that city council rejected a settlement offer to fix its sewage system.

“The Yadkin Riverkeeper is asking a resolution by council to say that after the rules are approved by the state, no employee or elected official from the City of Thomasville will lobby Raleigh to modify, delete or delay implementation of the rules,” Craver said. “It's kind of like me saying to council here's a blank city ordinance, I want you to vote for it and I'll fill in the blanks later. And once you pass it, it can never be rescinded.”

Regulations for the High Rock Lake Nutrient Management program, which focuses on discharges from wastewater treatment plants and stormwater runoff, are expected to be similar to the one passed at Jordan Lake. The process, however, could take several more years, and Craver said council is unwilling to fully support something that is far from finalized.

“We have no idea what these rules are going to be,” said Craver. “We have no idea when these rules will be approved by the state. This can affect some city board or city council that has yet to be elected. It could be 10 years from now. It won't be six months or a year from now. I'm not seeing it. It took them 10 years to do the Jordan Lake rules or longer.”

Najouks makes no mention of the nutrient program in his email to the media and cites the three wastewater spills resulting from the March 7 ice storm as further examples of Thomasville failure to address its aging infrastructure.

“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 sewer system only to have another totally preventable sewage spill totalling over one million gallons,” Najouks said in the email.

According to Craver, settlement negotiations regarding the city's current sewage system improvements, which total more than $5 million, have been productive.

“You've got nuts and bolts with performance and then we have this issue that is more of a policy issue than anything else,” said Craver. “We've kind of went back and forth with the performance issues and what the benchmarks will be and those negotiations have gone very well. Its been quite a bit of back and forth. I think we're in the 99th percentile pretty much on the performance issues. I don't know that there's anything of any substance left there. Then you've got this other issue that seems to be a sticking point right now.”

Negotiations toward a settlement are ongoing.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit in November on behalf of Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc.

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