The City of Fairhope, one of the most upscale cities in Alabama, stands accused by the state of five years of flagrant and repeated violation of water pollution laws.
In this age of incessant hand washing admonishment, the allegations seem all the more appalling.
For years, the city’s sewage treatment plant has been heedlessly overflowing tens of thousands of gallons of sludge into two nearby state bodies of water — Mobile Bay and Big Mouth Gully, which threads into the Bay.
Those are the allegations of the plaintiffs in the case filed May 15 in the Circuit Court of Baldwin County — the plaintiffs being the state of Alabama, the Alabama Attorney General and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
The instances of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) run from April 2015 through April 2020 — 108 of them, from 50 gallons to 78,000 gallons each.
Far from sanitary, SSOs are cases in which incompletely treated wastewater overflows from a sewage treatment facility. By their legal definition, they “imminently and substantially endanger human health based on potential for public exposure including but not limited to close proximity to public or private water supply wells or in areas where human contact would be likely to occur.”
Plaintiffs also say city officials further violated their discharge permits by failing to report these illegal discharges in the time required.
Plaintiffs called for a civil penalty. The law allows a maximum $25,000 penalty for each violation. The maximum for all 108 SSOs would come to $2.7 million.
Fairhope city officials declined to speak, citing a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.