Daphne Utilities settles 2017 Baykeeper lawsuit

Baldwin County

DAPHNE, Ala. (WKRG) — A spokesman for a Baldwin County utility says they have settled remaining claims with Mobile Baykeeper over a nearly two-year-old lawsuit. You can read the settlement document here. Among a number of terms in the settlement, Daphne Utilities agrees to maintain proper reports to the state, provide an updated sewer overflow response plan and agreed to pay $63,000 in fines to the state.

In 2017 Mobile Baykeeper sued Daphne Utilities, alleging the company was under-reporting sewer overflows to the state of Alabama. According to the news release, the settlement was sent to Baldwin County Circuit Court for approval.

The full Daphne Utilities statement is below:

This week The Daphne Utilities Board, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the Attorney General’s Office, and Mobile Baykeeper reached an agreement to settle the remaining claims of a 2017 lawsuit. The agreement has been filed with the Baldwin County Circuit Court for approval.
Over the last 18 months, Daphne Utilites has worked diligently to remediate any areas within the system which could cause problems or which might not operate to manufacturers specifications. Virtually all of the employees now operating the plant are new, with up- to-date training and additional certifications have been added to their job requirements. Since these new implementations, the facility has experienced no violations.

Terms of the settlement include Daphne Utilities’ agreement to:

Maintain proper operations and reports to the state.

Provide an up to date Sanitary Sewage Overflow Response Plan to ensure proper procedures and communications in responding to sewage spills. Daphne Utilities will pay Baykeeper $50,000 for perpetual rights to utilize Baykeeper’s communication and notification systems to alert the public of any spills or other reportable events to the community. In addition, Baykeeper agrees that it will cooperatively report to and work directly with Daphne Utilities on any future spills or other potential violations reported to them or for which they discover.

Engaged a third party, independent contractor to perform sample collection, analysis, and laboratory procedures and their sewage spill response procedures to ensure that employees maintain the standards our community expects.

Provide engineering reports to the state upon any expansion of the system.

The Utility will pay $63,000 in penalties to the state. No fines and no attorney’s fees were paid to Baykeeper.

“Over the last 18 months we have implemented changes in personnel, operations, training and certification at our treatment facility,” said Bobby Purvis, Operations Manager and interim General Manager. “What happened was unfortunate but it is something we have used as an opportunity to learn from and improve our overall systems. We are working hard every day to keep our system exceeding expectations and the lack of any failures over the last year shows we are headed in the right direction.”

“While there are many factors which can impact our operations including grease and storm water, I believe that our efforts, over the last two years, have this system operating as well or better than it has at any point before. As the operations manager charged with leading the effort to implement these improvements in plant operations, I can attest that our team has learned a valuable lesson – we cannot rely simply upon equipment and processes. Today, our employees understand the important role each of us hold in protecting our community.”

Baykeeper also released its statement on the agreement Saturday morning:

(Mobile, Ala.) – Mobile Baykeeper, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the Attorney General’s Office, and the Utilities Board of the Daphne have reached an agreement settling a lawsuit filed in December 2017 regarding unpermitted discharges into D’Olive Creek and discharges of sewage that violated the facility’s permit. The agreement requires Daphne Utilities to have an Engineering Report produced that comprehensively addresses the changes needed in their wastewater system to comply with applicable rules and regulations as well as permit conditions. The report will be actionable with a defined schedule for implementing any needed corrective actions. The agreement has been filed with the Baldwin County Circuit Court for approval. 
“This agreement is a strong step in the direction of clean water,” stated J. Patrick Courtney, III, attorney for Mobile Baykeeper. “Daphne Utilities has made staffing changes, improvements to their wastewater treatment processes, and investments in their sewage system that will benefit Mobile Bay.”
To deal with rapid growth on the Eastern Shore, Daphne Utilities will be required to have an outside engineer review and certify their system has adequate capacity anytime there is a significant expansion adding new customers to their system. Under terms of the settlement, the Utilities Board additionally agreed to utilize an independent contractor to perform an audit of their sample collection, analysis, and laboratory procedures and their sewage spill response procedures.
The suit started with multiple reports that the utility was underreporting large sewage spills. It wasn’t until after Mobile Baykeeper publicized this information in its investigative report and addendums that Daphne Utilities reported that for three consecutive months their average bacteria levels were well in excess of permit limits for the 3 million gallons per day of sewage effluent they discharged into Mobile Bay.
 “This lawsuit raised awareness for Daphne Utilities that they had a problem. It has been inspiring to see how far they have come. The utility has had very few spills over the last 6 months and water quality from the treatment plant is significantly better than it was in 2017-2018. We look forward to seeing them do their part to ensure we can all swim, fish, and play in Daphne area waterways,” Callaway said.
As a part of the settlement, Daphne Utilities will create a Sanitary Sewage Overflow Response Plan to ensure good procedures and communications in responding to sewage spills. The Utility will pay $63,000 in penalties split evenly between the State Treasury, the Attorney General’s office, and ADEM. $50,000 will be paid directly to Mobile Baykeeper’s attorneys to cover the countless hours they incurred over the last two years while working on this case.
Mobile Baykeeper’s members and the community at large expect us to report sewage spills (SSOs) every time they occur and we will continue to do so. Mobile Baykeeper is receiving no repayment for expenses incurred in this nearly three year investigation and lawsuit nor are we being paid for additional, future work. We are committed to closely monitoring Daphne Utilities moving forward and reporting every sewage spill from every utility on both sides of Mobile Bay.

Looking for the latest information on sewage spills? Check out our Sewage Spill Explorer.

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