Oxford facing $14,500 ADEM fine
by Eddie Burkhalter
Nov 09, 2013 | 5895 views |  0 comments | 92 92 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Water run off from the Quintard mall parking lot drains into Snow Creek. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Water run off from the Quintard mall parking lot drains into Snow Creek. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Oxford’s repeated failures to properly plan for stormwater runoff — an oversight that experts say could endanger the health of nearby waterways — could cost the city thousands of dollars.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is recommending the city pay a $14,500 fine for failing to submit a detailed stormwater management plan.

ADEM on Wednesday posted the proposed consent order, which includes the fine and instructions for city leaders in submitting a better plan. The public has until Dec. 5 to comment on the matter, said Scott Hughes, ADEM spokesman, then the department will determine whether changes to the order are needed before it becomes final.

Although the process is ongoing, the Oxford City Council agreed in October to sign the consent order, http://www.adem.state.al.us/newsEvents/notices/nov13/pdfs/11oxford.pdf , abide by its terms and pay the fine.

ADEM issued the city a permit in 2011 that requires Oxford control the discharge of pollutants from the city’s storm sewer system into the state’s waters. The permit also requires the city submit an annual report and a stormwater management program plan each year.

The city was required to send that plan by Aug. 1, 2011, according to the consent order. ADEM sent the city a notice of violation on Feb. 16, 2012 for failing to do so, and required the plan be sent within 30 days.

A July 2012 audit by ADEM showed the city’s plan — sent 85 days after deadline — was “inadequate” and that the 2011-12 annual report was insufficient and did not contain measurable goals on how best to manage stormwater runoff.

The audit also found the city failed to implement any of the best management practices that deal with controlling stormwater runoff as outlined in the plan.

ADEM notified the city Oct. 15, 2012 of the audit’s findings, and required Oxford to submit a revised plan by March 31, 2013. Oxford failed to submitted a revised plan, according to the order.

ADEM in May audited the city’s 2012-13 annual report for the city’s storm sewer system. Based on the review of that document, and the 2012 audit, ADEM determined Oxford failed to meet the requirements of its permit.

The order says Oxford’s stormwater management plan did not include required details about possible sources of pollutants that could enter into the storm sewer system. The city’s plan also did not state how the city would educate the public on stormwater runoff, and give them steps to take to reduce stormwater pollution.

Oxford also has no program to detect and eliminate illegal discharges of pollutants into the city’s storm sewer system, according to the order.

Attempts Friday to contact City Council President Steven Waits and Wayne Livingston, general manager for the Oxford Water Works and Sewer Board, were unsuccessful.

The consent order states the city must pay the fine and submit a revised stormwater management plan within 60 days after the order is finalized.

Past problems

Lu Moseley has been trying since March to get the city of Oxford to address storm water drainage problems on her street in the Blue Pond Subdivision. During heavy rains, water collects along the 100 block of Davis Avenue, she said, pooling in yards and covering parts of the road.

Ditches along both sides of Davis Avenue need to be cleaned, Moseley said, otherwise the water has nowhere to go.

“I just get the feeling that nobody really cares,” Moseley said. “When your street starts deteriorating at the edges … I wish they would do something.”

Moseley said several council members have expressed concern over the matter, but the problem has not been fixed.

In 2008, Oxford was fined $13,000 for problems related to stormwater runoff at the Oxford Exchange shopping center.

The city received three notices of violations from ADEM after inspectors found silt from the worksite had flowed into a ditch near Choccolocco Creek. That consent order stated the city failed to take action to mitigate the stormwater runoff, and that excessive sediment was discharged from the Exchange.

Protecting waterways

The reason for concern over stormwater runoff is that, if improperly managed, it can have devastating effects on the state’s waterways, explained Eva Brantley, assistant professor at Auburn University’s College of Agriculture.

“Across the nation, polluted stormwater runoff is the No. 1 reason that our streams, rivers, lakes and bays begin to degrade,” Brantley said.

Stormwater can contain pollutants from lawn fertilizer, trash and toxins from tires and brake pad dust, Brantley said.

“Stormwater is like a pollutant superhighway straight to our rivers and streams, and that can begin to cause our streams to unravel,” Brantley said.

There are ways to improve stormwater management, Brantley said. One simple, effective way, she said, is for homeowners to have their lawn soil tested so they’re not over-fertilizing.

On a larger scale, Brantley explained that city planners can move away from old stormwater management practices that pipe runoff to streams and rivers as quickly as possible to new practices that allow soil to absorb some of the water and filter out toxins before reaching larger waterways.

Christy Claes, coordinator for the Choccolocco Creek Watershed Alliance, spoke to the Anniston City Council on Thursday, encouraging members to attend a two-day workshop the alliance will hold in January on stormwater runoff, erosion control and stream restoration.

The alliance is a nonprofit education and outreach organization that promotes the recreational use and preservation of the Choccolocco Creek Watershed, which encompasses approximately 246,000 acres that drain into Choccolocco Creek.

“We’re trying to get the municipalities involved,” Claes said “Because there are resources out there that can help them improve their stormwater management.”

Claes said she hopes other cities, including Oxford, will attend the workshop and implement some of the techniques in future stormwater mitigation plans. The public is also invited to attend. For more information visit www.choccoloccocreekalliance.org.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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