Getting Off Cheap

Remember this post from about three weeks ago, all about how the Alabama Department of Transportation had botched a road construction project and contaminated Mobile’s water supply with massive amounts of sediment? And how the intrepid Alabama Department of Environmental Management didn’t even notice till newspaper reporters and Mississippi officials pointed out the problem?

Then I’m sure you’ll be shocked and stunned to discover that said ADEM, when tasked with determining an appropriate punishment for ALDOT, levied a whopping fine of……$75,000. That’s less than 2/10 of 1 percent of the total cost of the road that ALDOT was building. Wow, that’ll hurt.

The department could have levied a higher fine, up to $250,000, according to state documents, but “compromised the amount of the penalty the department believes is warranted in this matter in the spirit of cooperation and the desire to resolve this matter amicably.”

What’s the problem — are ADEM officials afraid that the ALDOT people will get mad and pout? Or maybe take their toys and go home? Not to worry, though; this severe punishment also means that ALDOT will have to clean up after itself. Well, sort of.

The Transportation Department will also have to remove some sediment from Big Creek Lake, and certain creeks and wetlands, under the terms of the order setting out the penalty.

Some sediment. Gee, I know the water-drinkers in Mobile feel better already.

Given ADEM’s lousy oversight, maybe this slap on the wrist is the result of intense embarrassment.

ADEM had inspected the site 12 times before the Press-Register documented significant problems there in mid-September, including failure to use even basic environmental controls in many areas. Beginning the day after the newspaper’s first story, ADEM discovered violations at nearly every place the roadway crosses creeks or wetlands, according to agency documents obtained by the newspaper.

Good thing for the people of Mobile that highly skilled environmental expert, um, reporters were on the job. Of course, the fine will come straight out of the pockets of taxpayers. It would never occur to ALDOT to, I don’t know, dock the pay of the people who didn’t do their jobs. Given the size of this massive CF, taking a bit away from each employee involved could cover the $75,000 without pinching too much.

Speaking of fines, is the state going to assess a penalty against ADEM? Trey Glenn’s $2.4 million boondoggle — I mean airplane — didn’t help the department uncover the problems in Mobile. Maybe it’s time to sell that baby. The state could use the proceeds to clean up Mobile’s water and maybe even reimburse the taxpayers for ALDOT’s fine.

H/T, Blues reader Pat

5 Responses to “Getting Off Cheap”

  1. Michelle McDonald says:

    I agree with your assessment whole heartedly. I think the community should be outraged at this good ol boy mentality of you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. ADEM should be fined as well for not doing their job. ADEM is already under investigation for ethical violations. And why is adem assessing the fine and not the U.S. EPA? ADEM had a hand in creating this problem. We can only hope that citizens will come together and slap ALDOT and ADEM with some sort of class action suit or stir up another “media frenzy” about this issues of a paltry fine.

    I plan to write to the US EPA and note what an embarrassment this is. No wonder Alabama ranked 48 out of 50 on FORBES lists of green states. Keep this up and we will rank #50 next year, the bottom of the rung!

  2. Sansou says:

    Kathy, thanks for posting on this. Grrrrr!! The insults just never cease.
    To wit, Jim Carns saying we need to drop half a million on a sewer study to tell us how to expand to the proposed Northern Beltline route. Sez we need to “expand the sewer system so we can get more ratepayers.”

    Oh, yeah. That’ll fix it. Geez!! Gary White said that exact same thing REPEATEDLY!! Somebody explain this to me.
    1. ALDOT demonstrates that it fouls waterbodies and watersheds.
    2. ALDOT chooses a route for the Northern Beltline that will be the MOST environmentally damaging (according to EPA) to the Cahaba River — right at the HEADWATERS.
    3. Said route chosen, NOT because it would facilitate better traffic flow (it will not) but for “economic development” reasons– per ALDOT’s own documentation.
    4. After septic tank lie was exposed, Jeffco commissioners claimed the SuperSewer was needed for “economic development.”
    5. Jeffco’s other newer sewer lines have spawned sprawling growth, which has resulted in higher, not lower, sewer AND water rates.
    6. If all those new taps in Hoover have not resulted in any rate relief, then how will adding sewer (thus more households) in the area of the Northern Beltline create rate relief?
    7. How will having ALDOT build a mega-road at the HEADWATERS of the CAHABA create rate relief when they goof up as they did in Mobile? Water ratepayers pick up the tap for all those clean-ups, and for future filtration of the sedimentation and oil and gas (and other polluted) runoff. More filtration costs the ratepayers.
    8. Whose Economic Development? The ratepayers and taxpayers can’t catch a break from all this Economic Development that our leaders want to bestow upon us. But, wait, it must be Economic Development for somebody, right? Hmmmm, who could that be? —-Ya think maybe campaign contributors who might also be big land owners in the areas of the Northern Beltline (and maybe the same Big Mules who own property in what was to be the SuperSewer route?)?

  3. Pat says:

    What a rotten mess. One state agency fining another state agency, albeit a token fine; both agencies guilty and responsible for extensive damage to Mobile County’s drinking water source; all Alabama taxpayers bearing the financial burden; and Mobile County citizens left with polluted water and increased filtration costs.

    This did not have to happen. In 2003 and 2004 a number of groups opposed the planned route of Highway 98 as the most environmentally damaging and potentially damaging to Big Creek Lake. The Mobile Area Water and Sewer System and others sued ALDOT. In the end, the political powers won out.

    In Jefferson County, a similar scenario is taking place. SOURCE is fighting to protect the already imperiled Cahaba River, which is the drinking water source for about 60% of the metro Birmingham region, from damaging impacts of a six-lane interstate highway. As planned, the Northern Beltline will plow through the uppermost reaches of the Cahaba watershed.

    The political powers are having their way. Just yesterday it was reported that the Jefferson County Commission is about to approve spending over a half million dollars to study sewer expansion to accommodate growth spurred by the Northern Beltline.

    The Jefferson County Commission and mayors are marching to the drumbeat of BARD – Business Alliance for Responsible Development – more appropriately, Rampant Development – a coalition made up of entities that are intrinsically linked to development, including large corporate landholders, contractors, developers, and utilities. This is the same group that thwarted the Upper Cahaba Watershed Study, sued the Jefferson County Storm Water Management Authority (SWMA), successfully pressured the Jefferson County Commission and cities to withdraw from SWMA and even managed to get the Jefferson County Commission to throw out a floodplain ordinance that had gone through due process and adopt a BARD-drafted floodplain ordinance.

    Elected officials should strive to protect vital regional water sources – not support projects and/or self-serving entities that will ultimately lead to their destruction. It would be interesting to know just who has benefited from BARD member political contributions.

  4. Tricia says:

    Unfortunately, I think the question should be, “Is there a JeffCo commissioner who hasn’t taken that money?”

    I’m not real happy with those folks right now.

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