Scott Hughes, a spokesman with the department, said the county has received at least three notices of violations in the past three years related to its storm sewer system.
Under federal law, urban areas maintain a separate storm sewer system for water that is discharged into a state rivers, lakes or streams.
Hughes said the county failed to provide the department with a Storm Water Management Plan for the separate storm sewer system in August of 2011, and a notice of violation was issued on Feb. 16, 2012. The county provided a plan in July of that year, but Hughes said an audit revealed “insufficient information” regarding how the county would manage outside agencies making illicit discharges into the system.
The county also is required to submit an annual report to the department every March, but did not do so in 2013, Hughes said. A notice of violation was issued by the department on April 18.
“An issuing of an order for a civil penalty is the next step after a notice of violation,” Hughes said. “We issue a civil penalty if the notice of violation didn’t reach the goal the department intended.”
Mark Welsh, Calhoun County’s landfill manager, who also oversees the storm water system, said the deadlines were missed due to oversight. It’s a mistake that Welsh said he hopes will be corrected by bringing in outside engineers to handle maintenance of the system in the future.
“What we’re finding out with these new state guidelines is you can’t in-house it,” Welsh said. “You have to have someone who specializes in the state’s guidelines on municipal separate storm sewer system.”
With the proposed order, residents have 30 days to submit written comments to the department and request a public hearing. At some point after that the department will decide whether to collect the fine. If it does so, the county would be required to submit a revised storm water management program plan to the department for review within 90 days of the penalty.
Welsh said the penalty was originally more than $17,000. Before the proposed order was made public, county officials were able to work with the department to reduce the figure, Welsh said.
“We’ve been working with ADEM on this, and we were able to talk them down,” Welsh said. “We just got to hope we don’t do it again.”
Welsh said despite the proposed penalty, the county’s storm sewer system is operating fine, and the county is still working on outreach programs to educate the public about storm runoff, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.
“We’re not going to change what we’re doing,” Welsh said. “We are following guidelines.”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.