Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts says claims in Riverkeeper lawsuit lack context
Clarksville, TN – The City of Clarksville is aggressively improving its entire wastewater collection and treatment system, and has spent more than $130 million since 2010 on construction of a new sewage treatment plant and other upgrades.
These efforts notwithstanding, last Friday, Tennessee Riverkeepers Inc., filed a federal lawsuit claiming the City of Clarksville had violated the federal Clean Water Act by illegally discharging 24 million gallons of pollutants into the Cumberland River watershed over the past five years.
“The City is committed to clean water and strives to comply with all state and federal wastewater regulations,” Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts said Tuesday. “And while the City does not admit to any unauthorized discharges, citizens should understand the context of what this lawsuit claims.”
“Even if 24 million gallons of wastewater reached the river over five years, Clarksville Gas & Water would have managed to capture 99.899% of the total wastewater created in this time frame. That would be a really small drop in a great big bucket,” stated Mayor Pitts.
In November, Riverkeepers had filed a notice of intent to sue, alleging the City of Clarksville had discharged 82 million gallons during that time period. In response to the notice, the City’s counsel argued that nearly 50 million gallons of wastewater had been released in a single catastrophic pipe break in late 2016, and showed that the issue was resolved two years ago and is now moot.
Additionally, counsel showed that some 18 percent of the illegal discharges alleged in the Riverkeeper notice of intent were actually allowed under the City’s current permit administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Apparently, based on the City-presented evidence, Riverkeeper dramatically reduced the amount of the illegal discharges alleged in the lawsuit from 82 million to 24 million gallons of wastewater.
The City also presented evidence to Riverkeeper that the municipality is working hard to improve its sewer treatment and collection system. Here is information the City’s counsel, William L. Penney of Burr-Forman LLP, presented to Riverkeeper in a letter on January 13th, 2020, in response to the group’s notice of intent to sue:
“The City is addressing issues pertaining to sanitary sewer overflows through a 2012 Consent Order issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The deliverables developed by the City pursuant to the Consent Order address all of the (sanitary sewer overflows) identified in your Notice of Intent to Sue as chronic overflows. In fact those improvements are identified and funded for a total of some $22.7 million. The City has budgeted an additional $4.3 million for sewer rehabilitation to reduce infiltration/inflow and provide wet weather capacity relief.
“Completed capital improvement projects addressing sewer capacity and reliability issues total at least $54.2 million in the past 15 years. The City has aggressively worked to improve its entire wastewater system infrastructure since the 2010 flood caused massive damage to the system, all in accordance with state approved plans and milestones. Flood recovery and rebuilding cost the City some $132.7 million.”
The City intends to mount a vigorous defense against the Tennessee Riverkeeper lawsuit. However, in its January 13th letter, the City’s counsel had urged Riverkeeper to avoid litigation.
“The City takes compliance with state and federal environmental law seriously as can be seen from the capital improvements already completed and that are budgeted in the near future,” the letter says. “The City strongly believes that litigation under these circumstances will hamper rather than help the ongoing efforts in that regard.”