ADEM sues Fairhope over sewage issues


FAIRHOPE – A lawsuit charging Fairhope with violating state environmental permits by not reporting sewage spills and other violations is awaiting action in Baldwin County Circuit Court.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed the complaint May 15. The lawsuit charges that the city violated its environmental permits between 2015 and 2020.

City officials said they were not aware of any spills that were not reported or any problems with ADEM.

Mayor Karin Wilson said the city has been working for several years to improve sewage treatment facilities.

“There’s not a municipality that’s done more to make improvements than the city of Fairhope,” Wilson said. “As soon as I took office, I said we have to upgrade out facilities.”

Reached heading home after a business trip to Huntville, City Council President Jack Burrell said he has not yet seen the complaint.

“As far as I know, we report when we have spills,” City Council President Jack Burrell said. “I’ve never heard when we haven’t.”

Burrell also said the city have been working to improve sewage treatment.

“I’m not sure what’s going on, but if we’re charged with not doing all we can to treat sewage after approving $12 ½ million on upgrading our treatment facility,” Burrell said. “We’ve got $5 ½ million for sewage upgrades on the agenda next week. I really don’t know what they’re saying, but we’ve done everything we can.”

The complaint charges that Fairhope did not notify the public or the Alabama Department of Public Health of six sewage spills between April 2015 and May 2018. The lawsuit also states that Fairhope did not submit timely reports of two discharges in the spring of 2015.

The complaint also charges that the city did not report excessive bacteria levels in discharges in September 2018. Fecal coliform bacteria had a monthly average of 78.31 colonies in a 100 milliliter sample. The permitted level is 14. Enterococci levels in the same period were 150 per sample, exceeding the 104 colony limit, according to the complaint.

The complaint stated that each violation could carry a fine of up to $25,000.

The lawsuit also includes a list of 99 “Sanitary Sewage Overflows,” or spills from the sewage treatment plants, between April 2015 and April 2020.

Wilson said all treatment systems have spills at times, but she was not aware of any in Fairhope that had not been reported.

“We have less SSOs, significantly less, than we have in the past, but it’s not down to zero,” Wilson said. “We report all of ours now.”

Fairhope is also charged with not meeting requirements to monitor treated sewage discharges for “total kjeldahl nitrogen,” or TKN three days a week when it did not monitor on Feb. 12, Feb. 28 and March 2, 2018.