ADEM reverses course on river program
by Patrick McCreless
Aug 21, 2012 | 8006 views |  0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A public health advisory posted at Choccolocco Creek near Alabama 77 just outside Lincoln warns against eating fish taken from the creek. (File photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
A public health advisory posted at Choccolocco Creek near Alabama 77 just outside Lincoln warns against eating fish taken from the creek. (File photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Alabama’s environmental agency recently reversed course on a proposal to shift local rivers from one pollution control program to another, after activists complained the shift would lead to poorer water quality for the Coosa River system.

Some environmentalists argued the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s proposal would delay the study and control of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs in Choccolocco Creek, Lake Logan Martin, Lay Lake and Lake Neely Henry.

The agency becgan taking public comment in March on the proposal, which would have removed the local waterways from a federal pollution program run under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, placing those waterways under two other federal programs instead.

At first, the agency said it was just shifting those river segments from one pollution control program to another, saving taxpayer money in the process. However, after reviewing the environmental groups’ complaints, ADEM decided against the proposal.

Scott Hughes, spokesman for ADEM, said the agency sent its final letter concerning its decision to environmental groups last week.

“This decision was made in response to comments made during our public comments period,” Hughes said. “Any time we get valid concerns, we do a very thorough review of those.”

Frank Chitwood of Coosa Riverkeeper was pleased with ADEM’S decision. Coosa Riverkeeper, a nonprofit group focused on protecting and restoring the Coosa River and its tributaries in the state, was one of the groups that opposed ADEM’s proposal.

“Our argument was very well-written and very correct and there was nothing much they could say to that,” Chitwood said. “I think this lets ADEM know that we are here and we’re watching.”

Mike Riley, president of the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association, a nonprofit which also opposed ADEM’s proposal, was also pleased with ADEM’s decision.

“We feel like we had a large part in this,” Riley said. “This is a great win for us.”

Section 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act directs environmental regulators to prioritize waterways in the states that are not meeting their current use classifications due to pollution.

The Coosa has been listed under 303(d) as a result of PCB contamination since the first list was issued in 1998.

Fishing is a designated use of the Coosa, under federal rules. But according to an Alabama Department of Public Health fish consumption advisory, residents should not eat more than two fish per month from the Calhoun County section of Choccolocco Creek due to PCB contamination. It also advises against any consumption of fish in the Calhoun County section of Lake Logan Martin.

Any stretch of river on the 303(d) list must be studied further to determine how much pollution is too much – through a type of study called Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL.

ADEM earlier this year proposed to remove local segments of the Coosa from the 303(d), saying it was not necessary to conduct a TMDL. ADEM said it would 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. ADEM said shifting to the other programs would eliminate redundancy.

RCRA for years has overseen the cleanup of PCBs in Anniston that were produced by Monsanto. CERCLA maintains a similar function regarding PCB cleanup in Georgia. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversees both programs.

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 would mean insufficient monitoring and cleanup efforts of parts of the Coosa or no cleanup efforts at all, he said.

“They were arguing that because of the EPA cleanup in Anniston, somehow those other sections of the river would be safe,” Chitwood said. “That’s nonsense.”

Riley said PCBs are still of grave concern.

“They are not just going to go away,” Riley said of PCBs. “We want to make sure we are being heard and our concerns are addressed.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
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