ADEM’s regulatory practices concerning pollution will be reviewedBy Jason Morton Staff writer, Tuscaloosa News
Last Modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 11:58 p.m.
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TUSCALOOSA | Municipalities and industries across Alabama would see tougher regulatory enforcement if the federal Environmental Protection Agency sides with a coalition of state environmental groups.
The Alabama Rivers Alliance, which includes Friends of Hurricane Creek in Tuscaloosa County, earlier this month filed a petition with the EPA claiming the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is incapable of adequately enforcing water pollution regulations.
The petitioners asked the EPA to review ADEM’s regulatory practices regarding water pollution, discharge and soil runoff. Should the federal agency agree the Clean Water Act is not being enforced, the EPA could step in to assume that role.
Business leaders and officials in local government who work with ADEM so far have been cautious in speaking publicly about the petition. However, some contend the state is applying a reasonable and fair level of enforcement.
“The city of Tuscaloosa has and will continue to be cooperative with both state and federal agencies in their efforts to enforce environmental laws,” said City Engineer Joe Robinson.
Robinson declined to comment further, despite the coalition’s many references to Tuscaloosa as an example of what is wrong with ADEM’s water quality enforcement.
John Wathen, who heads Friends of Hurricane Creek, said developers across Alabama could be subjected to tighter rules, if not from ADEM and the EPA, then from the municipalities in which they operate.
“We feel that ADEM has more or less been non-existent,” said Wathen, involved in drafting the petition. “Part of that failing is ADEM’s failure to regulate the city of Tuscaloosa and its storm water (discharge) permits.”
As an example, Wathen pointed to the city’s approval of Jamestown Villas, a 23-acre residential development off Crescent Ridge Road under construction since June 2009.
In October, the construction project and its developer, Northport-based Burns Construction Co., became the target of criminal and civil allegations regarding storm water runoff and erosion coming from the work site.
The civil suit, filed by nearby landowners, is still pending in Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court.
Jimmy Burns, the owner and developer of the 90-unit garden home subdivision, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor criminal charges and has said the court actions are the result of political and personal agendas.
Burns also said the site was inspected by engineers for the city of Tuscaloosa, ADEM and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and they all determined the development was in compliance with current soil erosion control rules.
Wathen, however, contends the erosion and environmental rules were not followed.
“If the state won’t (enforce regulations), then we have no recourse than to ask for federal intervention,” he said.
Another industry that could see tighter enforcement is coal mining.
Jim Walter Resources, which operates underground coal mines in Brookwood, has ADEM permits that regulate the industry’s storm water runoff and drainage.
Like the city of Tuscaloosa, officials for Jim Walter are not saying much about the petition to the EPA. Jim Walter spokesman Dennis K. Hall said the company is routinely visited by ADEM representatives and regularly submits water samples for testing taken from areas determined by the state.
“I think you’ll find that we have never been given any special treatment,” Hall said. “We’ve worked well with ADEM since we’ve been here ... (but) over the years, we’ve been fined and we don’t agree with all of the fines. A lot of the fines have to do with what Mother Nature does.”
“Every mine discharge in the watershed today has bacteria that’s associated with acid mine drainage,” Wathen said. “That is a violation of the law.
“Our rights have not been observed.”
Reach Jason Morton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0200.