An environmental group is asking a federal court to change or halt the construction of Atlanta’s public safety training center due to alleged sediment runoff pollution.
The South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA) filed a lawsuit on Aug. 1 against the City and the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), the facility’s private planner, in U.S. District Court as a “citizen suit” authorized under the federal Clean Water Act.
The lawsuit complaint seeks a court injunction halting sediment runoff from the DeKalb County site until the nearby Intrenchment Creek is capable of absorbing it – which in practice could mean halting the project under the standards described in the complaint.
“We have not been served but we will review any potential lawsuit and vigorously defend our position,” said a City spokesperson in a written statement. “The City remains committed to complying with the applicable environmental standards as we complete the PSTC.”
APF did not immediately respond to a comment request. SRWA attorney Jon Schwartz in May sent a 60-day warning notice of intent to sue, a requirement under the law, if the planners did not halt the alleged pollution.
An underlying argument made by the SRWA is that the project is essentially illegal under a state-imposed cap on sediment runoff into the creek that is already exceeded under normal conditions. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has said that is not true and the project is properly permitted.
A specific allegation in the current complaint is that APF began site-clearing without first installing sediment detention ponds required under its EPD permit.
The lawsuit says that runoff is indeed polluting the creek, which affects the temporarily shuttered Intrenchment Creek Park next door and general downstream areas and wildlife. The sediment is “degrading the water quality and aquatic habitat,” the complaint says.
Looking ahead to opposition to further construction, the complaint adds: “Creating impervious surfaces where there used to be vegetated land cover will cause further interference with Intrenchment Creek’s capacity to support fish and macroinvertebrates.”
The complaint claims the City and APF are aware the project was in violation of the Clean Water Act and failed to conduct mandatory reporting to EPD.
The complaint asks the court to rule that the defendants “violated and are in violation of” relevant sections of the Clean Water Act and to impose an injunction “requiring defendants to stop the discharge of sediment caused by construction activity at the Atlanta Training Facility construction site until Intrenchment Creek has capacity to assimilate the sediment without interfering with the stream’s designated use.”
The complaint does not specify how that alleged discharge would be stopped. While that could mean building the required detention ponds, the SWRA also argues that any amount of runoff is illegal under the creek’s current status, which in practice would bar any construction, as no sediment-storage system is flawless. However, the SWRA also says the APF itself has declared that, by following permit rules, the project “will not cause or contribute sediment to Intrenchment Creek.”
The lawsuit ties into a pending appeal of the project’s land-disturbance permit that DeKalb District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry filed on May 10 in DeKalb County Superior Court, which also alleges runoff pollution as a major concern. The SRWA was involved in an earlier stage of the appeal and has opposed the training center. SWRA is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging a controversial land swap of part of Intrenchment Creek Park. The land swap and the training center are both targets of a protest campaign known as “Defend the Atlanta Forest,” which has nicknamed the Atlanta facility “Cop City.”
A related issue is the status of sediment runoff in the creek is unknown beyond visual observation. Crucial, irreplaceable data is lacking due to a federal agency’s quiet shutdown of a monitoring device. The U.S. Geological Survey previously said its Feb. 16 shutdown of live data about turbidity – or how cloudy water is – from a “streamgage” device was due to “safety concerns” about the Defend the Atlanta Forest protests and will continue indefinitely. The shutdown, first revealed by SaportaReport, came 10 days after the original permit appeal was filed. The device’s data also was part of federal monitoring of Atlanta’s sewage pollution under a consent decree.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from the City.