Everything You Need to Know About Our Lawsuit with Daphne Utilities
Last month, we filed a lawsuit against Daphne Utilities for not reporting sewage spills and violating the Clean Water Act. Here’s everything you need to know to get caught up:
We filed the lawsuit because Daphne Utilities violated the Clean Water Act and threatened our ability to safely swim, fish, and play in our local rivers, creeks, and bays - plain and simple. This primarily resulted from not reporting significant sewage spills. We all have a fundamental right to clean water and Mobile Baykeeper works to ensure our community is protected from pollution that negatively impacts our health, our economy, and our way of life.
What They Did Wrong
The Clean Water Act violations we found include:
1) Underreporting Sewage Spills - Statements from former and current employees of Daphne Utilities attest that General Manager Danny Lyndall repeatedly pressured staff members to lower estimates of the amount of sewage entering local waterways.
2) Misreporting Sewage Spills - Numerous sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) reports were falsified, with misleading information that could negatively impact citizens’ health. These are the official reports sent to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), Alabama’s Environmental Agency (ADEM), local media, and environmental organizations who then use this information to notify the public. These reports are the best way to protect your health!
3) Failing to Report Sewage Spills - Worse than underreporting and misreporting is failing to report when a spill occurs in the first place. Wouldn’t you want to know if you or your children were swimming in a waterway filled with raw sewage?
Other issues include system malfunctions, failure to properly notify the public, and exceeding pollution limits outlined in their permit. Click here to get the full scoop from the Mobile Baykeeper’s investigative report.
How We Know
We never engage in lawsuits unless we have collected all the facts and there’s no other way to resolve an issue. Our evidence is very clear:
- Video and photographic evidence - We have photographic evidence of major spills of raw sewage from the facility, raw sewage floating in nearby streams, and aerial photos of serious issues at the plant. (Click here to see a few examples)
- Multiple interviews with former and current staff members - interviews with current and former Daphne Utility staff have confirmed the allegations above and are consistent with one another. One staff member described bacteria levels “too numerous to count” and another described a > 500,000 gallon spill of raw sewage as “the worst I had seen in my 20-year career.” This spill was reported by Daphne Utilities as 400 gallons.
- Thorough field investigations - When sewage spills were reported from Daphne Utilities, we followed up by sampling water quality and further investigating to validate these reports. Our results were very alarming.
* The above complaints are outlined here in the official investigation report.
Timeline of Events
Before we officially filed the lawsuit, other events happened which laid the framework for us to proceed into this suit:
- September 20, 2017: We filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue (NOI) Daphne Utilities for the violations described above. This letter outlines the allegations and informs the polluter that legal action will be taken if an agreement is not reached during the 60-day period.
- November 16, 2017: ADEM filed an official legal complaint against Daphne Utilities.
- December 19, 2017: We filed a motion to intervene in ADEM’s suit against Daphne Utilities because, unfortunately, we have concerns about ADEM being thorough enough with this case. Since Mobile Baykeeper uncovered the violations and has the most intimate knowledge of the problems, we feel it necessary that we are involved in to ensure the solutions found are adequate. These violations have been ongoing for years and ADEM only acted after we filed the 60-day notice of intent.
Changes We Want To See
We want to see an immediate culture change at Daphne Utilities - first and foremost. We want to see an investment in infrastructure allowing the repairs to withstand the amount of growth seen in Daphne and eliminate spills from occuring in the future. Lastly, when spills do occur, there must be immediate widespread public notification so that families will be alerted if and when a spill takes place and have the information necessary to protect their health.
What You Can Do
If you have concerns about these issues, we strongly encourage you to make those concerns known at the Daphne Utilities Board Meeting next Wednesday, January 31. It will take place at 5 p.m. in the Council Chamber at Daphne City Hall. If you want to voice your concerns but cannot attend the board meeting you can always directly contact the Daphne Utilities Board members.
Daphne Utilities Board Members
Randy Fry, Board Chairman: (251) 626-2628
Billy Mayhand, Vice-Chairman: (251) 626-2628
Selena Vaughn, Secretary/Treasurer: 251-626-2628
Mayor Dane Haygood, Board Member/Mayor - firstname.lastname@example.org, (251) 621-9000
Robin LeJeune, Board Member/City Councillor - email@example.com, (251) 621-9000
Click here to read specific details about the case in the official investigation report. For more information, visit mobilebaykeeper.org/sewer or contact Program Director Cade Kistler at firstname.lastname@example.org.