Attorneys from the Ohio Environmental Council’s Ohio Environmental Law Center (OELC) team with seasoned environmental plaintiff attorney, Rick Sahli, to represent Sierra Club in CWA citizen suit
Today, in a press conference, the Sierra Club announced it will file a 60-day notice declaring its intent to sue Franklin County for violations of the Clean Water Act involving sewage discharges. Franklin County and its seventeen townships have violated and continue to violate the Clean Water Act in two separate ways: 1) through illegal discharges of non-stormwater pollutants from the storm sewer systems they own, operate and regulate; and 2) by violating the requirements of a storm sewer system permit pursuant to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) provisions in Section 402 of the Clean Water Act, 33 USC §1342, in which Franklin County and the listed townships are co-permittees.
According to the 60-day notice, “the illegal discharges consist of non-stormwater, dry weather discharges of a variety of pollutants including, but not limited to, fecal coliforms, such as E. Coli and fecal streptococci, and nitrogen and phosphorus compounds. These pollutants are being discharged from more than 1090 separate outfalls that daily discharge from Franklin County’s storm water sewer system into multiple surface water bodies” Illicit discharges of sewage from NPDES permitted storm water outfalls are pervasive, rampant and widespread in all major Franklin County waterways. Franklin County continues to illegally discharge human waste without providing warning to the public, putting the health of County residents in jeopardy. The majority of these discharges are the result of failed home sewage treatment systems, which the County has neglected for decades. There are also seventeen co-permitted townships under the County’s permit, which are being named in the notice of intent to sue.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) reviewed Franklin County’s activities under its permit and identified a number of Clean Water Act violations, but the OEPA has yet to enforce any penalties for these violations.
“The County and its townships referenced in the 60 day notice are not solely to blame. Our federal and state environmental protection agencies are the first line of defense to secure safe water and make sure that the laws to protect public health are enforced. In this case, for fiscal or political reasons they have not,” said Trent Dougherty, Staff Attorney for OELC and co-counsel in this case. “As the only other option, citizens like these must take the responsibility upon themselves to protect their communities.”
“Keeping sewage out of our streams is the most basic of government responsibilities. Although the seeds for this problem may have been sown years ago through accelerated development, it is not something that Franklin County can continue to ignore,” said Ben Wickizer of the Ohio Sierra Club. Unfortunately, suing appears as the only viable option because of Franklin County’s persistent failure to adhere to its permit and the OEPA’s and Franklin County Board of Health’s unwillingness to enforce regulations.
“Residents of Franklin County are having their health put at risk and their local waterways polluted. This lawsuit is the only way we can be sure the Franklin County will properly clean up the sewage in our streams,” said Sierra Club member Pat Marida, “This is the water that we play in, swim in, fish in, bathe in, drink and is essential to the quality of life in Franklin County”.
There are hundreds of known discharge points in Franklin County that are discharging dangerous pollutants into Ohio’s water. The County has also failed to adequately notify residents about the pollution, erect signs warning citizens of discharge locations, and create a standardized public reporting system, which are all required by Clean Water Act.
The Sierra Club is seeking a federal court injunction with the hope it will create firmer mandates for the County to follow. The Sierra Club would like the court to, among other things, prescribe an enforceable compliance schedule and explicit funding commitments; require completion of all permit requirements, such as proper warning signs, maps tracing discharge locations, and a report hotline; and assess civil penalties for the Clean Water Act violations that have occurred over the past five years. The health of Franklin County’s citizens and water resources is at risk as a result of these illegal discharges; and it is critical that Franklin County seriously addresses this issue and complies with the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
Read more and view maps at http://ohiosierraclub.org/