Jefferson County

JeffCo Asks Court to Release It From Its Last Consent Decree

County Attorney Theo Lawson (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The Jefferson County Commission Tuesday filed a motion to be released from the 1996 consent decree over the Jefferson County Sewer System.

It is the next step in the county being released from all the consent decrees imposed on it.

“We were successful in getting out of the employment consent decree,” County Attorney Theo Lawson said. “The next consent decree was the environmental consent decree. We have made tremendous strides in ensuring that we are in compliance and beyond with federal law and continue to be committed to that because our sewer system is one of our biggest assets.

“We have worked hard to move forward to come to this point,” Lawson said.

In the filing, Jefferson County argues that the Jefferson County Environmental Services has achieved outstanding performance in meeting the effluent standards of its NPDES permits, has significantly reduced sanitary sewer overflows and has established operating and capital programs that are effective and sustainable for not only the four systems remaining under the consent decree but the entire water reclamation system. The system consists of nine water reclamation facilities that service approximately 600,000 citizens in Jefferson County and parts of Shelby and St. Clair counties.

There originally were nine county sewer treatment plants under this consent decree. To date, the county has gotten five of those plants out of the consent decree.

“These are the final four,” the county attorney said. “We’re confident that a court will look at what we’ve done and see what we’ve demonstrated. This will be the final consent decree that Jefferson County is under.”

The remaining facilities are Cahaba River, Village Creek, Valley Creek and Five Mile Creek. The county has been in this consent decree for nearly 27 years. It is believed to be the longest period that any community has been under a consent decree under the Clean Water Act.

The cost of fixing the sewer system also was part of what drove the county to declare bankruptcy, at the time the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history.

“It has been the goal of the commission and the goal of this office to bring all of the consent decrees that Jefferson County is under to a close based on our good works and compliance,” Lawson said. “French McMillan (an assistant county attorney) and Adam Sowatzka have done a great job in shepherding this to this point.

The county attorney said David Denard, Jefferson County’s director of Environmental Services and his crew “have done an outstanding job. Then French and Adam have worked tirelessly to bring this to this point.”

Jefferson County currently manages more than 3,100 miles of sewer lines that treat more than 100 million gallons of wastewater per day.