I. Welcome & Introductions
Tom Tidwell called the meeting to order at about 6:45 PM. A quorum was present.
II. Approval of Minutes
Minutes for the February meeting, with revisions, were approved.
III. Admit New Member Neighborhoods
No neighborhoods asked to be considered for BCN membership.
A BCN Neighborhood Census form was again distributed at the meeting. All BCN neighborhoods are requested to complete the form. The form ensures that BCN has contact information for each neighborhood and explicit identification of each neighborhood’s BCN representative and alternates.
IV. BCN Standing Committee Reports
Justin Wiedeman, CPA, PE – City of Atlanta combined sewage overflows
Justin is a resident of the Chastain Park neighborhood but is also a civil engineer and a CPA. He attended as speaker to inform us on issues related to our city’s sewage system and its impact on Buckhead neighborhoods. In introducing him, Chairman Tom Tidwell said that Justin had made a presentation to the City Council’s Utility Committee on the previous day. (CLICK HERE FOR THE PRESENTATION). Tom attended that session and said that our elected officials, City Councilmembers Yolanda Adrean, Mary Norwood and Felicia Moore, were “awesome” in trying to get an understanding of our current situation with the system.
Yolanda Adrean said she is working with the Memorial Park Conservancy in looking for long-term solutions, especially related to capacity issues. She said they have been meeting on this topic since around Christmas and that funding is being made available to potentially have an independent engineering assessment of the city’s plan. Meetings with Mayor Reed and Watershed Management officials are planned. Yolanda continued saying that the country’s infrastructure is in horrible condition. She continued that we had the great fortune of attendee Sally Bethea’s campaign to have a Federal judge order the City of Atlanta to make comprehensive actions to address problems with our city’s sewer system. She said we have made a lot of progress but we probably will never be finished.
Justin began his presentation by recognizing attendee Dieter Franz, who was Justin’s first boss when he was 16 years old. They were working on the Deep Creek Tunnel and Gravity Sewer project.
Justin referred to his presentation to the City Utilities Committee as sort of a “part one”, since “there are a lot of moving parts to this puzzle”. He said we have a unique system in Downtown and Midtown – a combined sewer, carrying both sanitary sewage and storm water. He said that’s an unusual “grandfathered” configuration. A combined sewer facility wouldn’t be permitted today. Peachtree Creek has four of these combined systems: three on the Northside, one on the Southside.
He said the system has several modes of operation. The first mode is dry weather: flows go to a treatment plant downstream.
The second mode is wet weather, when it starts to rain. He said there is something like nine square miles of impervious area Downtown, which creates an enormous flow of water. That flow, which can’t be treated under normal circumstances, goes to a CSO (combined sewer overflow) storage tunnel to be treated in a limited fashion at a CSO treatment facility that was completed in 2008.
The third mode happens when it is very wet. The storage tunnel becomes filled and discharges are made through control facilities into the creeks. Two of these creek discharges (shown above – Tanyard Creek CSO Overflow Facility and Clear Creek Overflow Facility) are upstream of Memorial Park. The control facilities are a key part of the overall system – they have valves (gates) which switch to flows from one route to another to the appropriate destinations of the system’s three modes of operation. (This is shown on page 4 of Justin’s presentation but is too detailed to be included here.) In very wet weather the capacity of the incoming flows at the Tanyard Creek facility, for instance, is about 100 times the capacity of the dry mode’s normal sewer. In terms of rainfall, one to three inches of rain can trigger discharges into the creeks.
The 1998 Consent Decree sets out definition for the treatment levels required for the three modes of system operation. These levels “Wastewater Treatment Facility”, “’Minimum’ Treatment – Wet Weather”, and “Very Wet Weather”, corresponding to the combined system’s three modes of operation. Justin showed the corresponding 2015 state permit’s wording. He noted that some of the prior year’s state permit’s wording about the expected frequency of very wet weather events had been changed.
In explaining the efficacy of the three modes of the system’s operation in very simple terms, Justin said in dry mode, the system removes virtually all of the poop. In wet weather, they remove part of it. In very wet weather, they don’t remove any of it but do try to remove things like bottles and large debris before it flows into Tanyard, Clear, and Proctor Creeks. He said understanding the situation this way is needed to assess the city’s proposal, such as a proposal to discharge more into creeks to remove pressure on downstream sewers.
Barbara Kennedy commented that that lack of processing is why Tanyard Creek, which flows through her Collier Hills neighborhood, repeatedly tests high for E. Coli. Tom Tidwell asked Sally Bethea and Juliet Cohen of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, if they do parallel testing to verify the city’s claims that their tests show no problems in creeks like Tanyard? Juliet said the Riverkeeper tests at 115 locations including Tanyard. She believes that everyone understands that there are instances when the creek is not meeting the standard. She said she was not aware of exactly which locations the city was conducting testing. She said that when specific problems are identified, they notify the city and they are fixed. Sally added that E. Coli levels reported on Tanyard Creek are typically pretty low.
Justin said that he is interested in knowing if the system is actually performing as well in doing minimum treatment as it was designed to function. He takes “the view that absolutely it does not.” His main points included that the city is permitted to release discharges not meeting the minimum treatment stands just four times a year. He said that the city had changed the definition of discharges so that discharges not meeting minimum treatment standards are not reported as doing so. He said the issue of “minimum treatment” is going to become a very big issue. Pages 7 through 16 of his presentation detailed what Justin identified were the current shortcomings in achieving minimum treatment. The points made there are far too detailed to be enumerated here. The page titles suggest the general content [underlining emphasis added]:
• CSO Control Facilities Do Not Provide Minimum Treatment (Based upon DWM Reports)
• “Minimum” Treatment Alternatives at CSO Control Facility Locations Were Abandoned after Preliminary Evaluation in 2001 (for Wet Weather)
• CSO Control Facilities and Bypass Discharges to Creeks [Includes an enumeration of Total Discharge Events Not Receiving Minimum Treatment – 2013-2015] • Design Data Indicates Facilities Not Capable of Screening All Combined Sewer Flow (Very Wet Weather)
• Combined Sewage (West Area) Wet Weather Storage and Treatment Systems Are Very Difficult & Expensive to Operate
• CSO Control Facilities Need Improvements – What has been completed?
• Restrictions on the Discharge from CSO Control Facilities was Removed from the New State Permit
• Compounding the Concern, the Projects Completed in 2008 Did Not Incorporate Growth in Midtown or on the West Side
• West Area Combined and Separated Systems are Connected – Significant Combined Sewer Flow in Overflowing Peachtree Creek Trunk Sewer
|Potential Solutions to Peachtree Creek Basin Sewage Flooding?
1. Peachtree Creek Relief Tunnel
• Relieve Peachtree Creek trunk sewers serving high growth areas.
• Provide more cost effective equalization storage.
• Protect Peachtree Creek from structural failure of Trunk sewers.
• Stop sewer overflows from manholes & exfiltration into parks.
• Protect peak hydraulic capacity at RM Clayton.
• Cost sharing formula(s) with DeKalb more than likely complicated by combined sewer service area.
2. Complete the separation of Proctor Creek Basin sewers then reallocate Proctor Creek CSO storage to Peachtree Creek Basin when it is no longer needed.
3. Take more storm‐water out of the combined sewer system.
4. Alternatives that relocate sewage overflows to other neighbors should be deemed unacceptable.
There was considerable friction during the meeting about whether the City was not complying with the Consent Decree’s rules by redefining overflow events as being something less important, thus lowering the count of significant overflow events.
Yolanda Adrean commented that the city had never taken on the stormwater issue. Justin indicated that the best long range approach is to divert more stormwater from ever getting into the system.
Yolanda says she has asked the Commissioner of Watershed Management (WSM) to pursue a 30-year solution to our sewer system problems. Jay Ash of WSM commented that they hear the concerns loud and clear and are diligently pursuing solutions.
Juliet Cohen stated that she thought that the way Justin was reading the state permits is not accurate according to the state Environmental Protection Division and the federal EPA. Justin said he respectfully disagreed. Juliet said that it would be a good idea to have a future BCN meeting with participants representing the Department of Watershed Management, the state EPD, and federal EPA who are overseeing the process to address some the issues raised in tonight’s meeting.
Tom asked if the Riverkeeper had an opinion on how to address the Memorial Park or larger Peachtree Creek issues. Juliet said they didn’t, having not hired an engineer to look into the issues.
The issue of using another tunnel to provide relief to the Peachtree Creek problems was discussed briefly. Yolanda said that was one of the issues she was interested in but during the three and a quarter hour meeting on the preceding day it didn’t come up.
VI. Community Concerns/New Business/Announcements
VII. Next Meeting April 14, 2016
IX. Adjourn – The meeting adjourned at about 8:00 PM.
Note: The opinions expressed by the speakers and individual neighborhood representatives in these minutes do not necessarily represent those of BCN or its member neighborhoods.