Nearly a decade ago, DeKalb County committed $326 million to fix its aging sewer system to reduce sanitation spills and agreed to meet a deadline of June 2020.
On Thursday, the county’s CEO Michael Thurmond publicly acknowledged what had long been known within county circles: There’s no way DeKalb will meet its obligations by next year.
Thurmond said it could take an additional five years to meet the 2010 agreement county officials entered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division.
“We lost three years in 2011 when the county failed to hire a project manager,” Thurmond said. “We can make up time, but I can’t recreate it.”
Thurmond, who took office in January 2017, said upgrading the sewer system remains his top priority, but he won’t be able to get it all done during his four-year term.
He said the county is still working with state and federal governments, including regular meetings to provide updates on the consent decree. It was during one of those meetings, held in November, that DeKalb acknowledged it will miss the deadline.
In late December, the county received a letter from the EPA’s regional office recounting that discussion and providing feedback. The letter obtained by Channel 2 Action News said that the county estimated only 52% of construction projects will be completed by 2020 and it could take until 2025 for everything to get done.
The letter reminded DeKalb officials that if the deadline is not met, the county could face fines and other penalties. DeKalb could request an extension and receive more time to comply, but the county would need to provide an explanation that also includes steps taken thus far to adhere to the agreement, the letter said.
Thurmond said he is not ready to formally ask for an extension since the deadline is more than a year away. But he said DeKalb will have little choice with so much that still that needs to be done, even with $105 million in consent decree projects already underway.
“The deadline is the deadline; whether we meet it or not, we still have to get the work done,” Thurmond said. “When I leave this office, I can promise you that DeKalb County’s consent decree response will be in a much better place than how I found it.”
One of the most substantial components of the consent decree is the Priority Areas Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program, and the county has identified 776 miles of sewer pipes for fixes and replacement. The EPA letter indicated that these are the projects causing the county to miss its deadline.
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