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February 5, 2004 Issue

Old landfill contamination worsens

Commission votes to spend an additional $155,000 to $195,000 on wells to diminish toxic plume

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Jefferson County commissioners moved decisively at the January regular session in response to news that contamination at the old landfill in Louisville has worsened. With little choice available to them, the board voted to spend an additional $155,000-195,000 to increase the number of evacuation wells needed to diminish the levels of industrial chemicals that make up 50-acre underground toxic plume. The price tag for these and other potential remediation costs at the site may well exceed $500,000.

The move came after commissioners heard the latest results from test wells in the upper aquifer that lies 40-60 feet beneath the landfill.


QORE Property Sciences Senior Hydrogeologist Curt Gorman explained that a correlation likely exists between the increase in wet weather last year and the increased levels of industrial contaminants cis-1,2-dichloroethene and vinyl chloride found in samples taken in November.

Gorman expressed little doubt that state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) would require the minimum remediation he outlined. He advised the board that EPD might require additional remediation measures either now or in the future.

In addressing the November samplings, Gorman said the test results in one well for cis-1,2-dichloroethene, that carries a maximum contamination level (MCL) of 70 parts per billion (ppb), had increased from 232 ppb in May 2003 to 852 ppb in November. Contamination levels in a nearby well had increased from 40 ppb to 142 ppb during the same period. Monitoring wells are sampled every six months.

Levels for vinyl chloride also increased dramatically at several test wells. The MCL for vinyl chloride, at 2 ppb, is much lower than some industrial solvents due to its toxic effects.

Results from test wells showed vinyl chloride levels at one of the wells had risen from 4.2 ppb in May to 136 ppb in November. Vinyl chloride is known to cause liver cancer in humans.

The method used to evacuate the industrial contaminants from the aquifer is referred to as air sparging, a process using air to force the evacuation of contaminants from the aquifer.

The current sparge line is 175 feet in length and includes five wells. Located in the "hot zone" immediately south of the landfill and paralleling Clarks Mill Road, the sparge wells were hoped to mitigate the greatest concentration of contaminants in the shortest amount of time, thereby halting the south-southwest migration of the chemicals and, eventually, the toxic plume itself.

Based on test results, Gorman advised commissioners to extend the sparge line another 500 feet and add 10-11 sparge wells, five to six monitoring wells and a larger three-phase air compressor at a price of $155,000-195,000. Gorman told commissioners that in terms of effectiveness of the plan, he anticipated it to be an eight on a scale of one to 10. The new plan cannot be implemented until approved by EPD.

Air sparging is a technique by which compressed air is pumped into the base of the upper aquifer that lies 40-60 feet underground. The industrial contaminants have settled to the bottom of the aquifer because they are more dense than air. Upon being mixed with air, some of the contaminants will be evacuated from the well and dispersed at the surface. A second advantage of sparge wells is that the large volumes of air mixed with contaminated water will stimulate the growth of microbes that will consume the contaminants.

Air sparging was believed to be the most cost effective way to approach the problem. The county gained approval from EPD prior to initiating the initial sparge line.

Also acknowledged by Gorman is the possibility that additional sparge wells will be required in coming months or years. He estimated those costs to range from $143,000-193,000, bringing the total amount to be paid by county taxpayers to $453,000-568,000. Those figures do not include post-closure costs at the site from January 1999 through June 2002.

Wrens settles lawsuit filed by officer

Police officer Willie Nelson claimed the city discriminated against him

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The 1998 discrimination lawsuit filed by Wrens Police officer Willie Nelson was settled out of court last month by the city's insurance carrier. Nelson was awarded more than $76,000, though his attorneys walked away with 70 percent of the money.

Documents relating to the suit, obtained under the Georgia Open Records Law, indicated that notification to the city in December 1998 alleged discrimination on the basis of race resulting from a decision by the city council that denied Nelson a promotion to acting police chief.

Wrens officer Harold Usry was appointed as acting-Chief in March 1999.

The City of Wrens ran an advertisement in the local newspaper in June 1998 after Police Chief Gene Prescott resigned, said city attorney Chris Dube. The council met and voted to hire Harold Usry as acting chief after no one applied for the vacant position.

According to court documents, Nelson filed a second discrimination charge in November 1999, alleging that he was denied a pay raise in August 1999 in retaliation for filing the 1998 charge.

He had received a performance evaluation but did not receive a pay increase. And in August 2001, Nelson filed a third discrimination charge, stating that the one-percent pay increased he received based on job performance was less than sufficient compared to that received by some other city employees, court documents said.

The complaints were filed in October 2002 in U. S. District Court in Augusta. The city's insurance carrier decided to settle the suit out of court in December 2003, according to documents provided in the Open Records request. Speaking for the city, Dube said the City of Wrens expressly denies any liability in the case.

According to court documents Nelson received a settlement totaling $76,244.56, of which he personally received $23,090. One of his attorneys, Atlanta-based Josie A. Alexander, received $44,154.56 of the settlement amount while his other attorney, Gwendolyn Fordson-Waring received $9,000. Effective the date of the settlement Nelson was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

Auditors call for a user-based fee for new landfill

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The January report to Jefferson County commissioners by county auditors noted mostly minor concerns for the period ending June 30, 2003. Commissioners plan to address the ongoing issue of increasing costs at the new landfill in upcoming meetings.

As in the past several years, auditors again called for commissioners to development and implement a user-based solid waste assessment fee for the county landfill. A user-based (per household or other criteria) fee will help insure that the cost of providing this service will be paid by the user and not ultimately by county property tax revenues, the report said. Auditors said such a fee would allow a significant reduction in current property tax revenues needed to finance county operations.

Landfill operating revenues for Year Ending June 30, 2003, totaled $292,091. Operating expenses for the same period were $686,834 while items such as closure and post-closure expenses equaled $88,809, thus requiring a $483,552 transfer from the general fund to cover the loss.

Auditors are working with county administrator Paul Bryan to establish proposals for a fee system. The proposals will be brought before the commission in coming weeks.

Recommendations for the sheriff's office included a stricter accounting for seized funds. All three items were cited in the previous audit. Auditors found that all funds seized during arrests had not been promptly deposited into the Seized Funds Account. Additionally, they said a majority of the funds being held relate to cases several years old and needed to be resolved. In a Jan. 26 response to auditors, Sheriff Gary Hutchins said he will work with District Attorney Steve Askew to get the funds released. Hutchins said he has instructed his office to immediately deposit all seized funds in the Seized Funds Account.

Recommendations for the Clerk of Court's office included deposit issues. Auditors said bank deposits should be made at least weekly and at anytime cash on hand exceeds $200. The audit showed that deposits sometimes exceeded $2,500 and were not made in a timely manner. Clerk of Court Mickey Jones said Jan. 23 that his office will begin making weekly deposits. He said when present in his office, large amounts of cash are kept under lock and key until deposited. The recommendation was listed a the previous audit.

Auditors recommendations for the Landfill Fund also addressed the need for making bank deposits when fees collected exceed $1,000. Landfill operator Albert Padgett in a Jan. 21 response said deposits are customarily made on Thursdays and that fees collected weekly are less than the targeted amount.

Other recommendations included the implementation of a receipting system for funds received at the prison camp. Auditors also recommended that the prison camp prepare a monthly report detailing funds held in trust on inmates behalf and profits generated through commissary sales and telephone usage charges.

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Last modified: February 4, 2004