Valdosta sewer spill into Onemile Branch, Drexel Park 2019-08-03

Why do we get to find out in the newspaper Tuesday about a Saturday sewage spill that just “occurred”, and didn’t even show up in GA-EPD’s online Sewage Spill Reports until after the newspaper was printed and distributed? Rest assured it’s not Valdosta’s responsibility, according to Valdosta.

[Pipe under bridge by apartments]
Pipe under bridge by apartments

Katelyn Umholtz, Valdosta Daily Times, 5 August 2019, Sewer spill occurs near Drexel Park,

VALDOSTA — A sewage spill was reported near Lola [sic: Iola] Drive and William [sic: Williams] Street, where private contractor RPI was working to replace sewer pipes for the City of Valdosta.

The spill happened Saturday morning as a result of what the contractor called “malicious activity on the bypass system,” meaning a pump stopped working, according to RPI.


According to an email from Kenneth Thatcher of RPI, the spill was minimal, but it was treated as a major spill because of its proximity to Drexel Park, an area they deemed as congested.

[Across the park]
Across the park

RPI reported the issue to Valdosta Police Department and the Environmental Protection Division because it was assumed to be malicious.

How seriously is Valdosta taking it as a major spill when the number of gallons reported to GA-EPD is zero (0)?

Also as usual, I see no email on this from Valdosta, despite years of promises that the city would notify WWALS the same time as the state. I’d bet the dozen downstream Florida counties also got no notice.

[Down the creek]
Down the creek

Downstream from Onemile Branch is Sugar Creek, the Withlacoochee River, and the Suwannee River.

By “malicious,” are they alleging somebody sabotaged their pump? Or did it just “occur”? Or, more likely, did it run out of fuel?

One thing is clear, Valdosta as usual assumes no direct responsibility:

The City of Valdosta said since it is RPI’s project, the contractor is responsible for handling the situation.

The sewage spill slightly upstream near the same Onemile Branch on Ashley Street, May 19, 2019, Valdosta blamed on Fats, Oils, and Greases, declared it not a spill, and did not report it to GA-EPD. Spills seldom seem to be Valdosta’s fault, according to Valdosta.

Back when a contractor installed a seal incorrectly at Valdosta’s then-new Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant and it spilled millions of gallons on January 24, 2017: Valdosta blamed that on the contractor, too.

Who hired the contractor? Who is responsible for overseeing the contractor’s work? Would that not be the Valdosta Utilities Department?

After that January 2017 spill, Valdosta published PR vowing City commits to providing information in timeliest manner,

It is the City of Valdosta’s goal and policy to communicate factually and comprehensively with our citizens and stakeholders. Earlier in the week, the city sent out information regarding a wastewater spill which resulted from a busted seal under warranty at the new Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant’s equalization basin. The city understands the concerns of some who would have preferred a quicker release of information and commits to making similar information available in the timeliest manner.

Yet once again, Valdosta’s own citizens aren’t even told about a weekend sewage spill until days later. This time it’s not even on the city’s own website. And what the city told the newspaper is full of doublespeak: the spill “occured” maybe through some unspecified “malicious” action. Valdosta “reported” it to GA-EPD, but GA-EPD didn’t put it on its website until today, a day after the newspaper story was online, and what EPD has is zero gallons of sewage.

This, Valdosta, you call factual and comprehensive reporting?

“The City of Valdosta is attempting to replace these sewer pipes, and in doing so we hired RPI,” said public information officer Ashlyn Becton. “(RPI has) been responsible for the entire project. The City staff went by to check on the status of the project and noticed the pump was stopped. They contacted RPI, and they are handling the situation.”

After reporting the spill to authorities, RPI also performed a cleanup that same day and a sampling of the area the following Sunday.

“The sampling was successful, and we will continue to monitor this location for a year,” said Scott Fowler, City of Valdosta environmental manager.

However, it is asked that the public avoid contact with the water adjacent to this area for a week.

How seriously is Valdosta taking that advice to avoid when this news is not even on the city’s own website?

Valdosta did not supply any pictures, nor did WCTV. But WWALS tester Scotti Jay sent Current situation on One Mile Branch. Iola and Williams St., 18 July 2019. Scotti’s pictures are also now on the WWALS website.

[Hazard code 1993: Flammable Liquid]
Hazard code 1993: Flammable Liquid

Hazard code 1993 is for Flammable Liquid, such as fuel oil or diesel fuel. Is Valdosta’s sewage flammable, or did Valdosta spill something else, or is that equipment just sometimes used for other purposes?

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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