DeKalb, EPA officials celebrate $265M loan to fund county sewer repairs

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From left, EPA Region 4 administrator Mary Walker, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond, DeKalb Watershed Management Director Reggie Wells and DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson pose for a photo following a Monday morning press conference to discuss a $265 million loan that will pay for sewer repairs in DeKalb County. SPECIAL PHOTO PROVIDED BY EPA

By Tyler Estep

Public comment on proposed consent decree modifications opens Tuesday

The head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency was in town Monday to tout a quarter-billion-dollar loan that will help DeKalb County pay for repairs to its long-neglected wastewater system.

During a press conference held alongside Briarcliff Road — a corridor which has some of the oldest sewer infrastructure in DeKalb — EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said working with the county on the $265-million loan is a symbol of his agency’s commitment to a clean environment.

“Working together, we’re going to get this done for all of the citizens who live here and across the country,” he said.

The loan, which was approved by DeKalb County commissioners earlier this month, will be provided through the EPA’s Water and Infrastructure and Finance Innovation Act. Officials have estimated that the low interest rate of 1.44% provided through the WIFIA program will save DeKalb and its ratepayers tens of millions of dollars versus other financing options.

The money will be spent to fund a portion of the repairs necessary to overhaul DeKalb’s wastewater system, limit spills and come into compliance with the Clean Water Act — something the county has been under a court mandate to accomplish since 2011.

The original deadline in DeKalb’s consent decree with federal and state regulators passed in June. Thanks to years of corruption and mismanagement, the county was still a long way from compliance at that time.

A newly proposed modification to the consent decree would give DeKalb about 7 1/2 more years to accomplish its goals.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond has touted sewer repairs as his top priority since taking office in 2017. He called Monday a great day for the county and for residents.

“First and foremost I want to say to our residents who suffered through these intolerable conditions, on behalf of our government, we apologize,” Thurmond said. “But I also want to say that this is a new day in DeKalb.”

In addition to the lengthy deadline extension, the proposed modification to the consent decree involves DeKalb paying a $1.05 million fine; additional oversight from environmental regulators; and a “capacity assurance program” that would allow the county to bank credit for repairs and enable some of the development that has been stalled by sewer problems to move forward.

The modification was filed in U.S. District Court late last week and is scheduled to be posted to the federal register on Tuesday. Once it’s posted there, a 30-day public comment period will officially commence.

Public comments can be sent via email to pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov or via mail to Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DOJ – ENRD, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, D.C. 20044-7611.

Comments should refer to “United States and State of Georgia v. DeKalb County, Georgia, D.J. Ref. No. 90-5-1-1-09497.”

A copy of the modified consent decree, including appendices, can be viewed below.

Modified DeKalb County Cons… by Tyler Estep

Modified DeKalb County Cons… by Tyler Estep

Modified DeKalb County Cons… by Tyler Estep

Modified DeKalb County Cons… by Tyler Estep

Read the original story on AJC.com.