A Chatham County Superior Court judge is expected to rule on an Effingham County property owner’s motion against the proposed Guyton wastewater treatment plant.
Craig Barrow, who owns land adjacent to where the city plans to build its treatment plant and sprayfield, is appealing a state administrative law judge’s ruling on the case. He filed his appeal on June 25, 2015, of Judge Kristin Miller’s decision that the state Environmental Protection Division permit of the plant could proceed.
Barrow and his attorney Jon Schwartz argue that the proposed sprayfield will adversely affect Barrow’s property. In their motion, the plaintiffs claim the land application system will “lessen the aesthetic, recreational, ecological and biological values of Mr. Barrow’s property, including wetlands on Mr. Barrow’s property. Wastewater will flow from the proposed Guyton LAS site to Mr. Barrow’s property.”
They also claim Barrow is harmed “by a failure to undertake the intergovernmental review of the proposed LAS as required by Georgia’s antidegradation policy.”
The motion asking to review Judge Miller’s ruling also states the proposed Guyton sprayfield does not follow the Department of Natural Resources’ guidelines and will not protect surface water resources. The motion further says a 50-foot buffer between the sprayfields and the on-site wetlands do not take into consideration the soils’ permeability or the high groundwater table.
Guyton plans to put in a sprayfield on 265 acres off Riverside Drive, across the road from Barrow’s property. Approximately 44.1 acres, or 17 percent, of the site will be devoted to the sprayfield.
Barrow argued that the EPD director’s decision to issue the permit should be reversed because it was issued in violation of the state’s antidegradation rule, operation of the sprayfield will violate the state’s water quality standards, the permit was issued in violation of sprayfield guidelines and there will be times the facility will not be able to comply with its permit.
Judge Miller’s opinion was that a detailed antidegradation analysis was not required, since the sprayfield is a non-point source that will discharge to groundwater rather than surface water. The judge also said there was no evidence the percolate leaving the facility would contain substances harmful to humans, animals or aquatic life.
Judge Miller said that although the permit does not strictly comply with the land application system guidelines in all respects, state Environmental Protection Division director Jud Turner was nonetheless authorized to grant the permit. The judge said, however, that the Guyton site is not ideal for a sprayfield. In her decision, she wrote, “On the contrary, as detailed in the Findings of Fact, the site is characterized by rapidly permeable, sandy soils that heighten the risk of off-site migration of wastewater nutrients; a relatively high groundwater table with an uncomfortably close connection to nearby wetlands, which support a large population of vulnerable aquatic species; and a 100-year floodplain that is likely more expansive than has been recognized by FEMA.”
Barrow has charged that the soils on the Guyton sprayfield site are rapidly permeable, and the water flow through those quickly. He also contends the sprayfield does not comply with the Department of Natural Resources’ guidelines and it will not protect surface water resources. He also said there must be an anti-degradation review whether “allowing lower water quality is necessary to accommodate important economic or social development.”
Judge Miller wrote that sprayfield guidelines “are not intended to be a cookbook,” and the EPD director is not required to reject a permit if a site does not meet each criteria listed.
Barrow also long has contended that it would be cheaper and more economically feasible for the city to tie into Effingham County’s existing sewage lines. Through engineer Christopher Quigley’s cost comparison
Barrow argues that the capital costs for treating Guyton’s wastewater at the county treatment plant would be $837,000-$1.1 million cheaper than capital costs for the Guyton land application system and annual sewage treatment costs at the county would be $39,000-$54,000 cheaper than the costs for operating the Guyton sprayfield.
The plaintiffs say neither the city nor the EPD refute the figures but instead argue the cost is not relevant. Barrow said the cost is relevant to the permit appeal because the sprayfield will degrade high-quality wetlands.
Judge Michael Karpf will determine if a cost comparison is required but will not decide whether he agrees with Barrow’s figures.