FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 19, 2017
Contact: J. Patrick Courtney, III, Attorney
Mobile Baykeeper files lawsuit against Daphne Utilities for Violations under Clean Water Act
(Mobile, Ala.) - Mobile Baykeeper filed to intervene in the State of Alabama’s lawsuit against Utilities Board of Daphne (“Daphne Utilities”) in Circuit Court on Tuesday, December 19, 2017 for numerous violations of the Clean Water Act and the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act. The utility has failed to comply with its permit by falsely reporting, under-reporting, or failing to report sewer spill data, as well as allowing significant amounts of raw or partially treated sewage to spill into nearby creeks, rivers, and bays.
Mobile Baykeeper reviewed video and photographic evidence, conducted multiple interviews, reviewed available spill data, analyzed aerial surveys, and conducted field research as part of its investigation into issues at Daphne Utilities. Current and former Daphne Utilities employees have reached out to Mobile Baykeeper staff to express their concerns and provide information on conditions of the facility. One employee stated that Daphne Utilities has been discharging sewage with bacteria levels “too numerous to count” into local waterways while another described a sewer spill greater than 500,000 gallons as “the worst I had seen in my 20-year career.”
“Sewer spills alone are terrible, but denying the public the opportunity to protect themselves is completely unacceptable” said Casi (kc) Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director & Baykeeper. “Upper management at Daphne Utilities has knowingly reported false sewer spill data, endangering our health and our ability to enjoy swimming and fishing in Coastal Alabama’s waterways. We will not let them jeopardize the health and safety of our community any longer.”
One of the most egregious violations occurred on August 10, 2017, when more than one million gallons of raw sewage spilled from the treatment plant into D’Olive Creek. The raw sewage gushed unsupervised for more than 13 hours at a flow rate of more than 100,000 gallons per hour. Despite the potential threat to public health, Daphne Utilities, in an effort to hide the spill from the community, the state environmental agency, and its board, reported the spill as“zero gallons” reaching waterways.
A summary of Mobile Baykeeper’s findings, outlined in depth in the attached investigation report, include: 1) Reporting failures, 2) System malfunctions, 3) Corrupt management, 4) Exceeding pollution limits, and 5) Public notification failure. Baykeeper’s investigation report found the above issues frequently repeated most likely due to unacceptable behavior of Daphne Utilities top management. According to J. Patrick Courtney, attorney for Mobile Baykeeper, fraudulent reporting has likely been occurring for much longer due to an entrenched company culture. “This type of leadership demonstrates a complete disregard for the health and safety of those who live in and around D’Olive Creek and Mobile Bay.”
Courtney and Mobile Baykeeper request the Court to require Daphne Utilities to take immediate steps to rectify the causes of the violations, address management officials responsible for these violations and establish strong employee accountability practices and whistleblower protections, invest in necessary infrastructure repairs and upgrades to eliminate future spills, and establish an accurate and immediate public notification process following additional overflows.
“As the City of Daphne grows and flourishes, Daphne Utilities is neglecting its responsibility to protect public health and our natural resources. Mobile Baykeeper, our members and Coastal Alabama residents deserve better and will fight to ensure honest reporting methods and the elimination of sewer spills.”
Mobile Baykeeper filed this lawsuit following a 60-day notice of intent (NOI) to sue on September 19, 2017. Since filing the NOI, Baykeeper has discovered additional evidence of illegal conduct by Daphne Utilities. The State of Alabama and Alabama Department of Environmental Management filed suit in the Court of Alabama on November 22, 2017.