TAKING ACTION: Environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper to sue cities over sewage

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COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. - The environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper said it plans to file a lawsuit against the cities of Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia.

It all has to do with the sewer systems in those cities and the sewage that occasionally escapes.

David Whiteside, the founder of Tennessee Riverkeeper, said the group learned of the periodic discharges of raw sewage from records at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management in Montgomery.

"And the state chose not to do anything about it," claimed Whiteside. "So Riverkeeper stepped in and said we know this is an illegal problem going on and that there's rampant sewage violations in Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia and we stepped in and said we want the state to clean this up."

Whiteside said the group discovered 35 such events between the two cities over the last five years, resulting in thousands of gallons of raw sewage escaping into the environment. "It's everything from a malfunction at the plant to clogged lines to locals, you know, dumping stuff into their storm drain," said Whiteside.

We spoke to the manager of the Muscle Shoals Utility Board, James Vance, who said Whiteside is right. They do have occasional problems and the occasional release of sewage from their system, just like every city across the state.

"Sanitary sewer system overflows do occur, and they occur for a variety of reasons, blockages in the line, problems at a sewer pump station, electrical problems, mechanical problems, but they are going to occur," explained Vance. "What our responsibility is when we become aware of those issues is to respond appropriately, correct the issue, and then as Mr. Whiteside saw, we report everything that we do, the estimated volume, and impacts to the public, any impact to the environment, and what we did to correct the situation and prevent it from happening again."

Vance said these things are going to happen and that the utility should be judged on how they respond to those events, and the steps they take to prevent them from happening.

Whiteside said if it does get to the point a lawsuit is filed, it will not be to seek monetary damages. But rather some assurance that work is underway or steps are being taken to reduce the number of events where sewage is able to escape the system.

Whiteside said that on Wednesday, the Riverkeeper group gave a 60 day notice to Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia of its intent to sue. He expects either ADEM or the attorney general's office will step in to work out a plan for mitigating the problem.


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