Justice on Chapel Hill
Decatur is the county seat of unincorporated Dekalb County in Georgia. Part of the Atlanta Metropolitan area, the city has for decades been experiencing toxic smells and poor air quality due to heavy industry pollution and apparent lack of maintenance from operators of the Snapfinger Wastewater treatment plant, putting the health of the community and their natural resources, including the South River, at risk.
At the center of this is a consent decree declared in 2010, when the Environmental Protection Agency, Georgia EPD and DeKalb County agreed to bring the county into compliance with the Clean Water Act and eliminate sewage spills. Unfortunately the county has done little to meet the consent decree’s requirements. In addition, a designation of priority vs. non-priority areas in the county was created, leaving South Dekalb with no mandatory deadlines for remediation or improvements in the sewage system, the area where most of the spills are happening. (See the South River Watershed Alliance profile on our website for more on the status of the consent decree.)
“Our community is supposed to have 120 acres of parkland, a community center, and swimming pool. Most of the parkland is a toxic wasteland and the community center and pool were torn down.”– Clarence Williams in interview
Justice on Chapel Hill Inc. identifies as a community-led movement, declaring, “Our Mission is to inspire South DeKalb residents to work together in reducing industrial pollution, protecting our natural resources and improving public health in our community. Our community has to come together in an organized manner to really solve these issues.”
Justice on Chapel Hill is working toward the following goals as priorities for their programs:
Regulatory Enforcement by EPA and GA EPD
State and Federal oversight is needed by regulatory agencies like the EPA and GA EPD (Environmental Protection Division) to enforce proper sewage and industrial pre-treatment processes, operations and repair or replacement of inadequate sewage and industrial waste infrastructure.
Accountability and Assessment
DeKalb County (under citizen and state oversight) must assess current levels of toxins and disclose all information pertaining to past toxic exposure. This assessment must be presented to the public along with a proposal for a transparent and accountable remediation process.
A master remediation plan must be created to address all issues within an agreed upon timeline. The Ethics Board should be given more teeth or a Citizens Review Board established. Solutions must include thorough clean up of all toxic waste sites (public and private), repair or replacement of inadequate and malfunctioning infrastructure, executing INVERSE CONDEMNATION for residents adjacent to the hazards (including consequential damage payments), resolving the lack of oversight in developing the 120 Acres of parkland in the community, resolving the site specific zoning issues related to a Georgia Supreme Court ruling, and strict adherence to the EPA’s requirements for the industrial Pretreatment Program. (IPP). Make IPP data readily available to the general public.
“Human health and environmental health go hand in hand. We cannot live healthy lives when our our churchyards, schoolyards and backyards are polluted with toxic waste.”– Justice on Chapel Hill website
Written by Michele Gielis
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