The agency disagrees, saying it is simply shifting those river segments from one pollution control program to another, saving taxpayers money in the process.
Coosa Riverkeeper, in conjunction with Alabama Rivers Alliance, filed a complaint last week against ADEM’s proposal, which the agency opened up to public comment in February. ADEM says it will consider all public comments before making a decision.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous … we think they are acting arbitrarily and capriciously,” said Frank Chitwood of Coosa Riverkeeper, a non-profit group focused on protecting and restoring the Coosa River and its tributaries in the state. “We think this movement is unjustified.”
Chitwood said the movement of the river segments to a different pollution control program involves Section 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act, which directs environmental regulators to prioritize waterways in the states that are not meeting their current use classifications due to pollution.
In this case, PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — have made much of the Coosa unsafe for fishing, a designated use of the river. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health 2011 fish consumption advisory, residents should not eat more than two fish per month from the Calhoun County section of Choccolocco Creek, a Coosa tributary, due to contamination by PCBs. ADEM also advises against any consumption of fish in the Calhoun County section of Lake Logan Martin along the Coosa.
When a part of the river is determined to be too polluted for its intended use, it is added to Section 303(d). Any stretch of river on the 303(d) must be studied further to determine how much pollution is too much pollution — through a type of study called “total maximum daily load” or TMDL. The Coosa has been listed under 303(d) list as a result of PCB contamination since the first list was issued in 1998.
This year, however, ADEM has proposed to remove those segments of the Coosa from the 303(d), saying it is not necessary to conduct a TMDL study. ADEM says it will instead shift those river segments under two already existing programs: the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act or CERCLA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act or RCRA.
The CERCLA for years has overseen the cleanup of PCBs in Anniston that were produced by Monsanto. The RCRA maintains a similar function regarding PCB cleanup in Georgia.
Scott Hughes, spokesman for ADEM, said moving the river segments under the already existing programs will remove unnecessary work overlap and help save taxpayer money.
“In any effort we undertake, we want to be good stewards of the environment,” Hughes said. “We feel the CERCLA and the RCRA are the best avenues to pursue these improvements.”
However, Chitwood said the RCRA and CERCLA were not designed to cover PCB cleanup efforts throughout all the designated segments of the Coosa. The change will mean insufficient monitoring and cleanup efforts of parts of the Coosa or no cleanup efforts at all, Chitwood argues.
For instance, Lake Neely Henry is far removed from the site of the RCRA program. As the Coosa flows away from Rome, Ga., and into Alabama, Weiss Dam separates the RCRA facility from Lake Neely Henry. The department has failed to show how PCB pollution on Lake Neely Henry is being addressed by the RCRA program, Chitwood said. This is because the RCRA program will not address PCB pollution on Lake Neely Henry, he said.
Hughes said if the proposed change does not lead to sufficient improvement of the Coosa, ADEM will alter its tactics.
“We will continue to collect data in that area and if we see we’re not making progress, we’ll certainly have the ability to do something different,” Hughes said.
ADEM’s acceptance of public comments on the proposal ends March 13. The proposal can be read at ADEM’s website at www.adem.state.al.us.
Anyone who wants to submit comments or new information regarding the Draft 2012 Section 303(d) List can do so in writing to Joseph Roy, Water Division, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, P.O. Box 301463, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-1463 (street address: 1400 Coliseum Boulevard, Montgomery, Alabama, 36110-2059). Roy’s phone number is 334-270-5635 and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star