June 21, 2017 – Jefferson County Commission members expressed concern when they learned of a July 10 deadline to respond to an Alabama Department of Environmental Management requirement that phosphorus emissions be reduced at the county’s water treatment plants.
Their greater concern was that they were learning of proposed rule changes within a few weeks of having to offer a response.
“This commission needs to be informed; it needs to be on the front end of these decisions,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said during the Wednesday meeting. “I’m not sure Mr. (county manager Tony) Petelos was informed to the extent that he felt he was needed to be.”
Assembled commissioners had an extended discussion when David Denard of the county Environmental Services Department presented an amendment to preliminary engineering studies for additional water treatment improvements to comply with new phosphorous discharge limits proposed by ADEM.
Stephens said his concern is the possible cost to ratepayers, as well as a lack of communication between the sewer department, the environmental services department and the commission.
“If we are spending taxpayer dollars, we needed to know in advance,” Stephens said. “We’re looking at a July 10th deadline and we need to have that extended.”
Commissioner Joe Knight said ADEM must solicit public comments when it submits a rules change and time must be allotted for that process. Denard told the commission that the 60 days provided for comments “is just not enough time. We don’t know enough yet.”
The impact of that change is “tens of millions of dollars at a minimum,” Stephens said. “We’re looking at five basins and improving the phosphorous for those five basins to .25 percent.”
Stephens said the 10-year plan of adjustment for sewer rates includes capital expenditures. It’s incumbent, he said, that the commission be sure those moneys “are needed and, if needed, are spent wisely.”
Petelos said there is no standard for phosphorous at the water treatment plants now. He agreed that the timeframe for replying to ADEM was short.
“We’re going to ask for more time to develop information that we need. The timeframe that they gave just doesn’t work,” he said.
Knight also said he is bothered that the commission was just learning of the July 10 deadline for comments.
“I’m going to drill down into it more to see if we can get a little more information,” Knight said. “If we have to go to a public hearing and testify to ADEM, that’s fine. But we’ve got to have a little bit more information.
“We just heard about it today and we asked as many questions as I could think to ask today,” he continued. “But I promise you I’ll have a lot more.”
Commissioners George Bowman and David Carrington were absent from Wednesday’s committee meeting.