East Dublin fined for environmental problems at park that hosts Redneck Games

hduncan@macon.comFebruary 23, 2013 

The cancellation of this summer’s Redneck Games gives East Dublin time to prove that any filth in Buckeye Park -- where the games’ mud pit belly flop and other events are usually held -- is just good, clean fun.

The site of the games is under scrutiny from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, which has said the nearby creek and the Oconee River could be contaminated by bacteria draining from a restroom installed at the park.

The city signed a consent order with the EPD last month, agreeing to conduct regular fecal coliform testing in the area and to pay a $10,000 fine for a series of environmental violations related to management of the park over the last five years.

According to the consent agreement and a previous EPD order against East Dublin in 2010, the city illegally filled a pond at the park with construction debris, then used a grant from former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Go Fish program to install a septic system over the old pond.

EPD officials have said they are concerned that the septic system is not draining properly because tests found high levels of fecal coliform bacteria in several areas of the park, including the adjacent Oconee River, which is designated for drinking water use.

As part of the consent order signed Jan. 15, East Dublin was stripped of its ability to regulate land disturbance by developers, because it failed to follow the state rules it had agreed to enforce.

The amount of the fine, and the loss of the city’s authority to issue erosion and sedimentation permits, are unusual, said Jeff Darley, special team supervisor for the Augusta regional EPD office.

“If they knew these rules and didn’t follow them, then EPD has concerns they would not hold others accountable,” he said.

The case was also a higher priority for EPD because it involved breaking multiple laws involving erosion, water quality and solid waste, he said.

“And this is an area that’s used by the public, and we want to make sure the public is safe when they swim in these areas,” Darley said. “Also, the city’s failure to cooperate was a contributing factor.”

The city, however, disputes the EPD’s interpretation.

“We responded to everything (EPD) ever gave us, but we didn’t agree with what they wanted us to do,” said Larry Drew, the city administrator.

“We been battling this a long time. … And it just feels like it shouldn’t have been,” Drew said. “(EPD) just kept pushing it, so we finally just came to an agreement so we could get through with it.”

He said the city thinks the high bacterial levels -- which EPD tests found once, but were not found in repeated tests done jointly between the city and EPD -- were caused by some kind of animal rather than the restroom. Drew said the restroom isn’t heavily used and isn’t open during the Redneck Games, when portable toilets are used instead.

He said Wednesday that the decision to cancel the Redneck Games after 17 years was unrelated to the EPD order or contamination concerns.

Filling a pond

EPD records show that the conflict began in 2007 when the agency received a complaint about open dumping of construction waste at Buckeye Park on Boat Ramp Road. The city had invited a local company to dump concrete waste in a pond fed by a spring, said Drew and Darley.

Drew said the pond was one of a group that had been dug by the county for recreation at the park in the 1980s, but it had never filled well and attracted mosquitoes.

“I think if a person digs a pond and he wants to be able to fill it up, he ought to be able to fill it back up,” Drew said.

The EPD indicated that this work should have required a land disturbance variance from the state because it involved work in state waters: the natural spring and the buffer of the nearby creek.

EPD asked the city to clean up the site and remove the concrete, but the city submitted a request to make the former pond an inert landfill so the construction waste could remain. EPD twice denied the request because under state rules, landfills can’t be located so close to property lines or waterways, the consent order states.

Darley said the EPD originally sought to work out a consent agreement with East Dublin, but city officials refused to meet. Finally EPD issued an administrative order against the city in September 2010, requiring that the concrete be removed, the nearby stream buffer restored, and the pond be filled in with clean dirt or sand.

But then the ramifications got more complicated. East Dublin received a Go Fish Georgia grant of $150,000 to install restrooms and pave a parking lot at the park, which has a popular boat ramp. The drainage field for the septic system is over a black, corrugated pipe used to divert water from one of the other ponds to a stream under the boat ramp.

“The pipe is undersized and probably compromised,” according to the January consent order, because EPD has seen water flowing around the pipe into the stream, which is classified for fishing.

In October 2011, EPD sampled four locations at the park and found high fecal coliform level in samples taken at the pipe, the creek and the river. Three subsequent samples taken in November and December, with the participation of city officials, were within safe limits. But the consent order states EPD remains concerned that seepage of sewage will occur during summer months when restrooms are used more frequently, and during certain rain events.

Drew said the restrooms aren’t heavily used.

The January consent order requires the city to use an approved testing company to take water samples and check them for fecal coliform on a quarterly basis for a year, in addition to testing before, during and after the Redneck Games and any fishing tournaments or other major events when the restrooms are heavily used. If none of these tests come back high, the city can drop back to testing annually for five years.

If unsafe fecal coliform levels are found, the city agrees to submit a corrective action plan to clean up and prevent future bacterial contamination within three months, and testing must continue quarterly in the future.

In addition, the city must submit proof that the material in the filled-in pond is actually dirt rather than construction or demolition waste.

“We’re not sure they ever removed the construction material,” Darley explained.

Drew said the city removed the concrete and used it to form a roadbed crossing one of the other ponds.

Darley said East Dublin has already submitted the first payment of $5,000 on its fine.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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