DeKalb employee fired over sewer spills

DeKalb County’s government says it didn’t report a sanitary sewer overflow to state and federal authorities. Pictured is the Snapfinger Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

A DeKalb County official says he was wrongly fired for failing to report sewer spills as required by state and federal authorities.

Charles Lambert, the assistant director for operations in the DeKalb Department of Watershed Management, didn’t comply with requirements to disclose a recent spill at a Decatur residence, according to his termination letter, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request Friday.

But Lambert said government field teams didn’t see a spill first-hand, and he believes he was dismissed because top Department of Watershed Management officials saw a video showing sewage that overflowed from a backyard manhole cover.

The county is conducting an investigation to determine the extent of its sewer overflow reporting issues.

Reports of sewer overflows must be made to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the county.

“It is important to note that public health was protected and DWM (Department of Watershed Management) staff completed the required response and cleanup activities as specified by state and federal laws,” the county said in a statement.

Lambert, who was the county’s interim watershed director until a permanent department head was hired last year, said the county responded to and reported on two spills at the residence.

“We report what we see. If we don’t witness it, we can’t report it,” Lambert said. “It seems like they’re out to get me.”

Sewer overflows are defined as discharges that include spills into waterways, indoor backups and outdoor releases.

Several years ago, DeKalb County entered into an agreement with the federal government to upgrade its wastewater systems, part of $1.35 billion in infrastructure improvements. The agreement included stringent sewage overflow reporting requirements.

Department of Watershed Management Director Scott Towler wrote in Lambert’s termination letter that he showed “substandard work quality” that put the county out of compliance with the agreement.

DeKalb could face penalties for failure to comply with reporting requirements, Towler wrote.

Lambert is appealing his termination.

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