DeKalb schools fined $30,000

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division issued the fine against the school system earlier this month for multiple  infractions during the construction of the Dunwoody-Chamblee Elementary School on Womack Road.

The fine comes as the school system is considering a decrease in teachers’ salaries, closing magnet schools and cutting other programs to meet a $56 million deficit.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the order in which the school system was cited for violating the state’s Water Quality Control Act. The order is addressed to Patricia Pope, former school chief operating officer, who is the subject of a criminal investigation by the DeKalb district attorney for bid tampering.

Reached at her home Monday afternoon, Pope declined comment.

DeKalb schools spokesman Dale Davis said the fine was paid by the contractor, the architectural firm and the geotechnical firm hired by the district.

"The school district paid these firms to manage the storm water properly," Davis said in a statement. “Since they didn't, it was their responsibility."

EPD officials inspected the school construction site in April after receiving a complaint from Joe Hirsch, who lives near the school.

“I observed an obvious erosion problem,” Hirsch told the AJC. “Dunwoody and Pat Pope said it was fine, but I kept seeing mud wash into the street.”

EPD inspectors found muddy water draining into a nearby stream and sediment traps filled with mud, according to the order. They also found hay and other debris near the waterway. State law requires all construction debris be kept 25 feet from all waterways.

The EPD also cited the school system for not having a proper erosion control plan for the project. The school system also did not maintain inspection reports and rain logs, as required by law, according to the state agency.

Inspectors also foundthe district had been building the school without a valid storm water permit from August 2008 to April 2009.

On Monday, Hirsch said the construction is complete and the drainage problems havebeen addressed.

“I’m glad it’s over and see it as an unfortunate waste of school monies and time,” he said. “None of this would have happened if Pat Pope would have just done her job. I wasn’t trying to get anybody in trouble. I just wanted to see the mud stop washing off the property.”

In addition to the fine, the school system spent about $30,000 on lawyers and environmental consultants to fight the EPD violations, according to school system invoices.

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