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Guyton’s sewage permit on hold after court ruling

POSTED: March 10, 2014 8:45 p.m.

Guyton’s permit for its planned wastewater treatment plant sprayfield may be headed back to the state Environmental Protection Division.

The Office of State Administrative Hearings ruled that Craig Barrow, whose property abuts the sprayfield, had standing against the state and moved the case to Effingham County Superior Court.

Barrow filed his petition with the Office of State Administrative Hearings late last year, and Judge Kristin Miller ruled March 5 that Barrow had a preponderance of evidence to have his appeal of the permit heard.

“The court recognized that individuals have a right to protect aquatic resources when the government is unwilling to do so,” said Jon Schwartz, Barrow’s attorney.

A longtime and vocal critic of Guyton’s proposed wastewater treatment plant, Barrow also has repeatedly lobbied the city to connect to Effingham County’s wastewater lines.

Judge Miller heard evidence and arguments on three separate days, Jan. 27, Feb. 5 and Feb. 10, before issuing her ruling that Barrow had standing to appeal the permit.

Both parties have asked the court to return the permit back to the EPD while the Federal Emergency Management Agency finalizes its flood maps. If FEMA’s flood maps change significantly, the permit would have to rework the permit accordingly, said state EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers. Chambers added he didn’t know how long it would take FEMA to review and possibly amend the flood maps.

The Office of State Administrative Hearings also has not ruled on returning the permit to the EPD.

In his petition, Barrow and Schwartz argued the sprayfield would adversely affect “his recreational use and aesthetic enjoyment” of his property. Barrow does not live full-time on the property, but he does spend most weekends there.

Barrow pointed out his property is home to many species of wildlife, especially reptiles and amphibians, and they could be harmed by leakage or runoff from the sprayfield.

Barrow also argued, and the judge concurred, that his land is connected hydrologically to Guyton’s site through both surface and underground streams. “Although both the Director (EPD director Jud Turner) and the City contend that no hydrological connection exists, their arguments are unsupported by the evidence, including the testimony of some of their own witnesses,” Judge Miller ruled.

Barrow also charged that FEMA’s flood maps were inaccurate, and the maps were based on inaccurate data. The current FEMA map does not put the proposed sprayfield within the 100-year flood plain. But an erroneous calculation was used and once the correct formula was applied, portions of the sprayfield were found to be within the 100-year flood plain.

Barrow and his team also have performed an economic analysis of the wastewater treatment plant, and their findings showed that hooking into the county’s system would be cheaper.

The city plans to build a $4.75 million wastewater treatment plant, capable of handling 250,000 gallons of sewage a day. Guyton originally considered treating the wastewater to reuse standards but instead opted to dispose of it through a land application system on 650 acres it owns off Riverside Drive.

But the city has estimated it would cost between $7.8 million and $8.1 million to connect to the county’s system, including the cost of buying capacity.

Guyton had a bond package of $9 million approved in 2011, with $4.75 million devoted to the cost of the plant and $2 million toward a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loan. Other bond proceeds went to remaining GEFA loans, past bond redemptions, a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan and debt reserve. The city bought 650 acres off Riverside Drive.

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