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August 10, 2006 Issue

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Sex offenders study the changing law
EPD approves Columbia Co.sludge for area hay farm

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Sex offenders study the changing law

• Local officers hear the concerns of area's registered offenders and the communities where they work, live and, in some cases, raise families

By Jessica Newberry

Over a month after Georgia’s new sex offender laws were passed, law enforcement agencies across the state are still working to meet the requirements of House Bill 1059.

“We know what the intent of the law was,” said Lieutenant Robert Chalker of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Offi ce (JCSO), “but it is extremely general at this point.” The laws, effective July 1, have created a statewide debate over their interpretation as well as a class action lawsuit involving every sex offender in the state. In addition to the severe limitations the laws place on where an offender can work and reside, many are also concerned about the new classifi cations for sex offenders.


“Some of these guys were convicted of statutory rape, but, under this law, they are thrown into the same pot with everybody else,” Chalker said. “We don’t have a choice but to treat them all the same way.”

Registration for life is required of all convicted sex offenders unless they were convicted of a misdemeanor or adjudicated in juvenile court. This registration must occur with the local sheriff’s offi ce within 72 hours of their birth date or a change of residence, a significant reduction from the original 10-day time requirement.

In an effort to increase understanding of the laws, JCSO representatives held a meeting for all Jefferson County sex offenders to go over requirements and answer questions.

“We had a good turnout, and we answered questions and listened to their complaints,” Chalker said. “We really just want them to maintain communication with us and use common sense.”

The law states that sex offenders cannot loiter within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, school, church or any other area where minors congregate, including school bus stops, public and private park and recreation facilities, playgrounds, skating rinks, neighborhood centers, gymnasiums and public and community swimming pools.

“They have been worried about whether they can attend their children’s ball games and whether they can still attend church,” Chalker said. “We think that neither one is considered loitering, so it’s all right. Loitering and worshipping are two different things, and the law doesn’t define either.”

Offenders are also not allowed to work within 1,000 feet of a day care, school or church.

However, there are no specifications as to how the measurements are to be made which is leading to confusion about where offenders can and cannot live. Offenders are also unable to reside in any hotel that has a public pool while trying to find a permanent place to live.

Since July 1, two offenders from outside the county have moved in because of the new requirements, both from Richmond County. Jefferson County currently has 36 sex offenders, several of which have already moved due to the restrictions. Others will probably have to relocate but cannot do so until current bus routes have been established the Jefferson County Board of Education, according to Chalker.

Probation and parole officers of the offenders will help them find new residences and submit these for approval by the JCSO.

The JCSO is also currently in the process of supplying every school, city hall and the county commissioners’ office with an updated notebook containing the names, addresses and photos of every sex offender in the county. Every notebook will be updated within 72 hours of change in information for any sex offender.

According to the new law, a website containing identical information must be maintained by the JCSO and must be updated within 48 hours of any informational changes.

“We are in the process of getting this website designed and in place, but there was no money allocated for this purpose in the current budget so we’re doing the best we can,” Chalker said. “Fewer than 50 of Georgia’s 159 county sheriff’s of- fices currently have their websites up and running.”

Chalker and representatives from the JCSO will be attended a two-day Georgia Sheriff’s Association Conference in late August to learn about how the new laws should be enforced.

“We have questions that need to be addressed, and we are hoping to learn from how other counties are handling this,” Chalker said.

EPD approves Columbia Co. sludge for area hay farm

• Citizens remain concerned about the effects of biosolids despite EPD mandated precautions such as increased buffers and rate reductions

By Jessica Newberry

Despite much objection from Jefferson County citizens, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has once again permitted the Hudson Farm property to receive land applications of biosolids.

On July 10, the proposed Columbia County Sludge Management Plan (SMP) was approved by EPD with comprehensive, five-year permits for the operation of four wastewater treatment plants: Reed Creek, Crawford Creek, Little River and Kiokee Creek. A section of this plan addresses the management and land application of the biosolids, or sludge, produced by these facilities.


The Hudson property, located on Horseshoe Road northwest of Louisville, has been approved for land application over 385.5 acres or 8 fi elds and uses the sludge as a nitrogen supplement for grass fi elds.

Because of its close proximity to Rocky Comfort Creek and various other concerns specifi c to the site, the permit recently issued by EPD has been modifi ed to include special conditions for application to and monitoring of the site.

These conditions include the installation and monitoring of groundwater monitoring wells, collection of baseline groundwater quality data prior to land application, a 25-percent reduction of the biosolids application rate below the agronomic rate and the exclusion of the property’s closed depressions from application as well as a 100-foot buffer zone around each depression.

“The 25-percent reduction is enforced across the state in areas where site geology indicates a groundwater recharge area,” said Rachel Cochran, an environmental specialist in the Permitting, Compliance and Enforcement Program of EPD’s Watershed Protection Branch. “The buffer areas are put in place on a case-by-case basis, and they are more stringent in this area due to the presence of areas with a geologic possibility to hold water. The buffers will serve as a safety factor to prevent potential run-off into these areas.”

Despite these precautions, local citizens remain concerned about the effects of these biosolids on the environment, especially due to the location of the site over an aquifer recharge area which supplies water to residents of southern Georgia and northern Florida.

“We continue to assert that it is unwise to land apply minimally treated human and industrial sewage over areas that supply our drinking water,” said riverkeeper and executive director Chandra Brown of the Ogeechee Canoochee Riverkeepers (OCRK). “However, the Columbia County Sludge Management Plan is one of the fi rst plans in Georgia to require groundwater monitoring. This concession is certainly a minimal safeguard to protect people’s drinking water, and we will monitor the reports to make sure that the land application is not negatively impacting streams and groundwater.”

The decision to issue permitting for the Hudson site came after consideration by EPD of public comments received during the July 28, 2005, public hearing and public comment period.

A significant concern for local citizens is the monitoring of surface water and groundwater. Under EPD land application guidelines, the minimum buffer distance from a site to surface water is 50 feet, and all Hudson Farm sites are at least 1,000 feet from Rocky Comfort Creek.

A shallow groundwater-monitoring well network has been installed on the property and will be monitored quarterly nitrate-nitrogen and general water quality parameters and annually for heavy metals.

Sludge monitoring will also be done at each individual wastewater treatment facility that will supply sludge to the site. Because there are no permitted industries discharging into the two facilities and due to current sludge production rates, Crawford Creek and Kiokee Creek will be monitored annually while Reed Creek and Little River will be monitored quarterly.

However, the OCRK is still seeking additional protection from local government in an effort to preserve the environment and the aquifer recharge area.

“Until the state of Georgia adopts regulations to protect our drinking water, it is up to the citizens of Jefferson County to encourage the county commissioners to protect their community,” Brown said. “The commissioners can adopt a local o r d i n a n c e that regulates where and how human sewage can be dumped in the county.

OCRK has provided a model ordinance to the county commissioners that has been adopted in neighboring communities. The commissioners’ recent decision on the Forstmann site shows their commitment to preserving their community and its resources for future generations.

I hope that they will take the added step of adopting an ordinance that puts the commissioners and the citizens in the driver’s seat when it comes to importing waste in the county.”

The Hudson Farm site was first permitted for land application of sludge in August 2000 through an SMP for the City of Augusta. This permit allowed for the application of biosolids from the Messerley wastewater treatment plant in Augusta over 558 acres. During 2000 and 2001, the City of Augusta land applied 18 dry tons of biosolids on four fields of the Hudson property.

Augusta will retain one of the fields, located west of Columbia County fields three and four, which is not included in the Columbia County SMP. Before land application begins by Columbia County, EPD requires the City of Augusta to amend its SMP to exclude the remaining fields it will not be using.

Amendment to the SMP will involve public notification and a 30-day comment period.

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