CONYERS -- A group of concerned Rockdale County residents has asked the county to contribute $5,000 toward its legal expenses as it seeks protection from a 5-mile sewer tunnel proposed by DeKalb County that would be constructed near the Rockdale County line.
Cary Bond made a brief presentation to the Board of Commissioners on June 26 where he outlined the concerns of Newly Organized Citizens Requesting Aquifer Protection (NOCRAP).
He said DeKalb County's proposed sewer tunnel is designed to connect that county's Snapfinger Wastewater Treatment Plant with its Pole Bridge Wastewater Treatment Plant. The 25-foot-wide tunnel would be buried about 300 feet below the surface and would be bored under the Little Mountain area of Rockdale County and terminate in DeKalb County.
In particular, NOCRAP is concerned about differing interpretations of what part of the tunnel needs permitting and to ensure that raw sewage does not contaminate the local aquifer.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has stated that shafts used for sewer tunnels do not require permits while Bond contends federal court rulings say they do.
"The EPA, the (state Environmental Protection Division) and (Department of Justice) are under a different opinion and (U.S. District Court Judge (Thomas) Thrash will have to rule on that," Bond said Monday. "This affords citizens of Rockdale County the opportunity to enter into public comment."
NOCRAP would like to hire Atlanta attorney Hal F. Wright, to represent the group's interests — which Bond asserts are also Rockdale County's interests — during a hearing before the U.S. District Court.
This particular hearing centers around the city of Atlanta's request for a 13-year extension to complete one of its consent decrees. The process allows for a public comment period, in which NOCRAP hopes to participate. Specifically, Bond said Wright would prepare and submit a comment to the DOJ, attend court the day Atlanta's final motion to amend its decree is heard, and if necessary, prepare a legal brief.
The deadline for submitting a comment is Monday, July 9.
"It will cost much more than $5,000 for Mr. Wright to represent us," Bond said. "We know money is tight and that's an issue, but this is the cheapest the county could get for representation to protect our aquifers, water and drinking water."
He said the issue is important because without resolution, Rockdale County cannot fully plan for future water needs with the possibility of the tunnel being constructed. Furthermore, Bond said, "the county cannot ensure protection of public health for its residents unless it is prepared to litigate against DeKalb County when it moves forward with its sewer tunnel."
Bond said Rockdale County has been very supportive of his group's efforts.
The issue was first brought to the county's attention in 2008, Bond said, at which time the BOC passed a resolution stating the county's commitment to protecting the local aquifers and water resources. Rockdale County also sent letters to the federal court, the state Environmental Protection Division, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice.
In late 2010, DeKalb County announced it would no longer pursue the tunnel as part of its five-year water-sewer improvement plan because slow population growth in the southern part of the county made it unnecessary at the time. Instead, DeKalb County officials said they would focus sewer upgrades elsewhere and revisit the tunnel project at a later time.
"That's not to say they won't come back at some point to build it," Bond it. "Should they decide to build the tunnel, we believe it must be properly permitted."
Bond said a representative from NOCRAP will make a similar presentation this week to the Rockdale Water and Sewerage Authority in hopes of securing its support as well.
The Water and Sewerage Authority will meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Assembly Hall on Main Street.