Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Riverkeeper Seeks Compliance

On Monday, St. Johns Riverkeeper filed suit against the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) in United States District Court. The suit was filed under the Federal Clean Water Act for JEA’s continuing water quality violations at the Buckman and Arlington East Wastewater Treatment Facilities (WWTF).

The sewage collection systems for Buckman WWTF and Arlington East WWTF have repeatedly failed over the last several years, illegally discharging over 8.3 million gallons of raw sewage and poorly treated wastewater into Duval County waterways. The Arlington East WWTF experienced 96 illegal discharges of raw sewage, or Sanitary Overflows (SSOs), between September 2001 and July 2007. The Buckman WWTF experienced 111 illegal SSO discharges. The lawsuit is a natural progression of our campaign to step up compliance and enforcement of environmental regulations related to wastewater discharge permits in the lower St. Johns River.

As you may know, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Public Trust Environmental Law Institute of Florida released the Lower St. Johns River Compliance Report in June, a study that analyzed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) specific to the lower St. Johns River. That study documented 301 violations of the NPDES permit limits or conditions.

This legal action is just a continuation of the Compliance Report Project. We spent hundreds of hours reviewing DEP files and documents and confirmed that there is a serious problem with permit compliance and the enforcement of the laws that are supposed to protect our waterways. We found that ongoing violations continue to occur at these and other wastewater treatment plants and are not being adequately addressed by JEA or the DEP. We feel like the ongoing situation leaves us no choice but to file suit, and let the courts resolve this matter.

"We hope that JEA and DEP will get the message that these violations are unacceptable and must be adequately addressed,” noted our General Counsel, Michael Howle. “Riverkeeper cannot stand idly by and allow this to happen. If our regulatory agency won’t do its job and enforce clean water laws and JEA won’t take the responsibility to fix these ongoing problems in a timely manner, then Riverkeeper will step in and make sure that the public interest is protected."

If JEA is truly committed to protecting our waterways, then fixing failing wastewater treatment facilities and sewage collection systems should be one of its top priorities. Based on the ongoing violations at the Arlington East and Buckman facilities, JEA does not appear to be adequately living up to that commitment. Our goal is to make sure that they are fulfilling their legal responsibility and obligation to operate facilities that are fully and consistently in compliance with the law and don’t cause harm to the public or our river.

We'll keep you posted as things progress.

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