Springfield City Councilman Dennis Webb recommended the city send a letter to the Environmental Protection Division refusing to pay “fines or penalties” for withdrawals above their permit Tuesday.
Springfield received a draft permit Friday from the EPD and Webb said he had not discussed his comments on the EPD’s guidelines on Springfield’s additional water withdrawal request before the meeting.
“The draft does include a permit increase for 100,000 gallons a day, which is what we requested,” he said, “and it also includes the standard conditions that we must comply with; however, this is where the good news stops. Also on that list is a total of 20 special conditions that they say we must comply with in order to obtain the permit.”
Mayor Barton Alderman said as he read through the draft, he became more and more angry.
“Mayor and council I have tried to act in good faith with EPD for three years. I’ve sat in so many meetings with them I can’t count them, and EPD has done nothing but hinder Springfield from operating in a sound and reasonable manner,” he said.
“Now these special conditions include such things as following EPD directives on the instillation of purple pipe whatever those directives are,” Webb said. “Even though the cost of connecting the pipe to our plant is completely cost prohibitive except in the area that is surrounding our plant.”
He said the proposed conditions also require the city to submit studies and reports “that will further enhance EPD’s control over us, and it will create an additional cost burden for us to bear.”
City to express displeasure
Webb proposed sending a letter to the EPD informing the agency the city will go ahead with installing a water line to Effingham County High School and that the city expects to have an increase of 100,000 gallons approved.
“We will also send separately for EPD’s approval an application for an increase in our permit for an additional 150,000 gallons a day above and beyond this request,” he said. “This is to cover
the planned growth that we have for the next two years.
“We will not accept or pay any fine or penalties for exceeding our withdrawal permit as these problems have been entirely caused by the failure of EPD to act in a reasonable manner,” Webb said.
He also asked for copies of the letter to be sent to all pertinent officials.
“If EPD persists in its stance that we are in the red zone we will request our legislators take action that will legally remove us from being considered in the red zone,” Webb said. “Now, I don’t take these words lightly that I’ve said because I know how much grief and hardship EPD is capable of inflicting on a small town like ours.
“However, EPD is using us as a pawn in a political war with Chatham County and a political war with South Carolina, and if we allow it to continue, we’re going to lose everything,” Webb said. “I urge council to authorize the sending of the letter I proposed, and be willing and ready to deal with these issues with the utmost resolve.”
Public Works Director Lowell Morgan told the council that he has read the conditions multiple times and the more he reads them, the more he finds.
Webb said condition 14 was a good example of what Morgan was referring to. It calls for the city to submit a water withdrawal status report and document any modified or updated construction and completion schedules.
The first report is due Dec. 31 and reports are supposed to be done every six months.
“And here is the kicker,” Webb said. “This material must show continued progress regarding the installation, and eventual completion, of the infrastructure necessary for the use of any proposed alternate water supply sources. That is tying into surface water.”
Alderman said the increase sounds good until “you read the fine print,” and added the permit expires Dec. 31, 2008.
“Plus, it’s only temporary,” he said “So, we get an extra 100,000 gallons for 18 months with the conditions, and we would need possibly need to hire an additional person to do the reports.”
Morgan estimated the cost of doing the reports and studies the EPD requests at $100,000.
Water to the schools
The city has been in talks with the Effingham County Board of Education about extending water lines to Effingham County High School and Effingham County Middle School.
“The purpose is two fold — to get the school board out of the water business, which they don’t want to be in, and to save the school board a substantial amount of money by reducing its insurance rates by providing higher water flow rates,” Webb said. “None of this requires additional withdrawals from the aquifer. It is simply a transfer from the board of education to us,” he said.
Webb said when the current Springfield Elementary was placed on the city’s water system the city was told the water permit would be increased to offset the use of the school, and that increase was never granted.
When the city first approached EPD with plans to take over the school’s water system, according to Webb, they were told it would be a “no-brainer” and they expected approval.
“Since then, we’ve been put off and stalled and we were told our application hadn’t been received,” he said, “although we had received confirmation that they had received it, but they never got it.”
Seeing red in the red zone
An EPD report put the northern edge of the red zone at Highway 119. The red zone is the area where the upper Floridan aquifer is in danger of saltwater intrusion.
Webb said the study the EPD conducted does not support this assertion.
“Furthermore the documents the EPD produced show that the actual cone of depression is significantly south not only of 119, but of Springfield entirely,” Webb said.
Webb said since he has been on the council he has been heavily involved with issues concerning the EPD including treated wastewater, ground water and “the so called red zone.”
He added that EPD Director Dr. Carol Couch said in her recent visit to the county that 119 was a hard line and Springfield is in the red zone. Water withdrawal is going to be reduced to 2004 levels.
“There are two ways of achieving that,” he said. “One is by pumping water from north of the red zone, and the other is by tying into surface water from Chatham County.”
Webb told fellow council members that “to understand the absurdity of this” calls for looking closely at the red zone map. The cone of depression covers two-thirds of Liberty County and more than three-fourths of Bryan County, according to Webb.
“However, both of these entities were totally eliminated from red zone restrictions,” he said. “Springfield is the only entity that straddles the line drawn by EPD and that draws almost all of its water from south of 119. Guyton’s well is north of 119.”
Webb said EPD’s solution is for the city to drill a well out of the red zone or to tie into a surface water provider.
“To drill a well is going to cost us about $600,000, and that’s assuming we can secure a site almost directly across from our existing well and use the existing tank, not build a new tank,” he said. “Now think about that. We’re talking about spending over a half a million dollars to build a well that is literally within sight of our existing well, and this is to support EPD’s bad science. The alternative, and this is the way EPD clearly wants us to go, is for us to tie onto a surface line, and that’s going to cost us a lot more than $600,000.”
Morgan said as he understands it the legislature gave the EPD control over the Floridian aquifer, but if the city agrees to this it would be giving the EPD control over the city if it decided to put a well in another aquifer.
Webb said the city can’t agree to the conditions.
“It appears to me that the only help we may get is legislative,” Alderman said.
Councilman Jeffery Usher said state Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington) was “livid” with the suggestion to move the well when officials met with EPD liaison Jeffrey Larson.
“He said, ‘This doesn’t make a bit of sense. You want them to relocate a well within eyesight two or 300 yards. There’s no reason to what they’re trying to do,” Usher said.
Councilman Charles Hinely was worried about the zero line and why Liberty County is exempt when most of it is inside the red zone.
“Why are they sticking with 119 when both of our wells are in the good zone?” he asked. “They won’t even let us use one of them.”
“Because we are a source of revenue is what it boils down to south of this county,” Councilman Kenny Usher said. “Rincon got busted across the chops to the tune of $2 million, and that’s what we’re looking at too.”
Morgan said Burns advised the city council to not lose its cool, even though Morgan told him “I’m sick and tired of it, and I’m tired of working with them.
“I know how Dennis feels, I know how I feel, I think I know how most of you feel, but we can’t lose all diplomacy.”
Webb said he is willing to work with Burns, but he is not willing to accept any of the conditions proposed by the EPD.
“Let’s turn the operation of the water system over to Carol Couch and let her fund the pipeline,” Usher said.
Hinely offered a different method of answering the EPD and its stipulations.
“Let’s run a discharge line from the treatment plant to Peachtree Street and turn it loose,” he said.