‘This is our backyard, too’

Daphne Utilities talks changes, improvements made since Baykeeper lawsuit

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 2/20/19

Daphne Utilities General Manager Danny Lyndall said he knows the utility has had a black eye with local residents after a lawsuit was filed against it in late 2017 by Mobile Baykeeper.“We may …

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‘This is our backyard, too’

Daphne Utilities talks changes, improvements made since Baykeeper lawsuit

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Daphne Utilities General Manager Danny Lyndall said he knows the utility has had a black eye with local residents after a lawsuit was filed against it in late 2017 by Mobile Baykeeper.

“We may have stumbled recently, but our commitment to the environment is unwavering,” Lyndall said. “And we intend to prove it to our local community.”

Lawsuit background

On December 19, 2017, Baykeeper filed a lawsuit against the utility due to fraudulently reporting and failing to report sewage spills discharging into Mobile Bay, violating the Clean Water Act and Alabama Water Pollution Control Act.

In April 2018, the environmental group said violations have continued and worsened. Mobile Baykeeper’s April 2018 report, which documents violations occurring in January 2018, came on the heels of discovering 25 violations from September to December 2017 with some instances of bacteria levels “too high to measure.”

“After filing the initial lawsuit, we hoped we would begin to see some improvements.” said Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director & Baykeeper. “Instead, our investigations show that Daphne Utilities is dumping millions of gallons of sewage pollution into Mobile Bay every single day. We will not be satisfied with any outcome that does not get to the root of these issues and ensure they are completely fixed to protect the health of our communities.”

“Resolution to these ongoing issues needs to come from a transparent and thorough process that includes Mobile Baykeeper, the organization that first brought these issues to light. Anything less would lack assurances that these problems are satisfactorily resolved to protect the health of our community.” Callaway added.

Daphne Utilities disputed Baykeeper’s claims, saying:

“We take any and all violations very seriously, which is why we reported them to the proper authorities,” a company press release said. “We are working with the governmental body charged with overseeing our operations and we are complying with all of their requests. We will continue to work with ADEM to identify any issues which might require remediation and we look forward to getting back on track for another decade of award-winning environmental service for our growing community.”

Since the lawsuit

Daphne Utilities hasn’t spoken out much since the lawsuit was revealed, which Lyndall said has been deliberate.

“The public hasn’t heard much from us because we believe actions speak louder than words,” Lyndall said. “From the moment the problems first occurred at the plant, we have been aggressively working to fix things.”

Lyndall said major upgrades have been made to the utility’s sewage treatment plant near Gator Alley and the I-10/ Highway 98 intersection.

“There’s a lot of things we’ve done down here at the plant,” Lyndall said. “There’s been a lot of time, effort and money expended to put this plant back to where it was. There’s no amount of money we’re willing to spend to put back into this place to insure we have we the operation working as good as we can. We can’t change what happened in the past, so we are focusing not only on today, but tomorrow.”

Lyndall said one of the utility’s goals has been restoring the treatment plant to its former glory.

“It has taken significant time and resources to get the plant back to operating properly,” Lyndall said. “But, this is a plant that, as recently as 2016, was named the Best Operated Plant in the State of Alabama by our peer utilities. It didn’t get in bad shape overnight and couldn’t be fixed overnight. It took several months to get the facility back to top operating condition.”

Several actions have been taken since the Baykeeper lawsuit, including:

- Repairing several pieces of faulty equipment for a cost of over $100,000.

- Bringing in a specialty contractor to remove the buildup of excess solids in the plant at a cost of over $200,000.

- Moving to a 24-hour shift with individuals working around the clock.

- Installing redundant monitoring systems to provide warning to numerous individuals if a critical level is reached.

- Working with a PhD specialist and two engineering firms in reviewing the plant’s process on a regular basis to ensure proper operation at an optimum level.

Lyndall said another key component was that an entirely new staff was hired to operate the treatment plant, including a new facility supervisor with 40 years of experience.

“She has been a certified operator in 10 different states and in Canada,” Lyndall said. “She has operated facilities of all sizes and configurations up to 250 million gallons of treatment per day. She holds a dual water and wastewater certification.”

The plant also has a new wastewater manager with more than 20 years of experience and a new chief plant operator that was recently certified by ADEM as a trainer for other plant operators.

Lyndall said the utility also keeps a PhD on retainer who specializes in the type of biological processes the plant operates with and who has been on site numerous times for counsel and advice with staff.

“We have added approximately 150 years of combined experience with our staff, which includes four Grade IV operators, the highest level attainable,” Lyndall said. “We are only required by ADEM to have a single Grade III operator, so this is just another example of our dedication to going above and beyond minimum requirements.”

For the future

“In the past 10 years, we have spent approximately $14 million in capital upgrades for both the plant and our collection system,” Lyndall said. “That’s part of our commitment to our customers.”

Lyndall said Daphne Utilities also has plans for millions of dollars worth of future upgrades for the city’s entire system, which include:

- Being in the planning phase right now for additional upgrades to the treatment plant, which will build redundancy in the process, increase our total treatment capacity and provide the ability to meet discharge limits that are among the lowest in the state.

- A multi-year program to clean and video document every foot of the 200 miles of pipe buried in the ground to prioritize and schedule repairs. The utility looks to spend $500,000 per year on this project.

Lyndall said while he understands why people have been upset in the past, he hopes the public understands that the area’s water quality isn’t just a work concern for him or other Daphne Utility employees.

“I understand that people who live along Mobile Bay are concerned about the Bay and water quality in general,” Lyndall said. “We recognize the public perception is that sewer plants on both sides of Mobile Bay are polluting the Bay. But, the reality is our employees live here, too. We, along with our families, drink the same water, swim and recreate in the same waterway, and eat seafood from the Bay every day. This is our backyard, too. And we’re going to continue to make sure we take great care of it.”