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River Task Force addressed Valdosta sewage spills

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Published: Jan. 8, 2020 at 11:40 PM EST
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Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News

January 8, 2020

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Tensions were high Wednesday as dozens of community members voiced concerns over sewage spills in Valdosta.

Last month, 7.5 million gallons of sewage overflowed from a manhole in Valdosta, seeping in to Sugar Creek. Many communities in North Florida are still dealing with the repercussions, and are now demanding action.

On Wednesday, the City of Valdosta hosted a quarterly meeting with the River Task Force. Formed in December 2018, the task force is made of representatives from 12 North Florida counties to find a way to help Valdosta end ongoing sewage spills.

Madison County officials said since the spill occurred last month, three health advisories have been released due to unsafe level of contaminates, and another is expected after unsafe test results earlier this week.

Madison County Coordinator Brian Kauffman said this recent spill is unlike most, with issues continuing weeks after the incident.

"For over a month now we're having to issue these advisories to stay out of the river," Kauffman said.

Valdosta officials said Wednesday they continue to invest in sewage system improvements, like $40 million in SPLOST funding approved in November, and an ongoing manhole rehab program, adding sensors for quicker notification if a malfunction occurs.

Valdosta Mayor Scott James said Wednesday they are doing everything the possibly can to get these spills under control, adding that he would not have taken the job as mayor if the investment funds were not approved.

Valdosta officials said the last spill was caused, and overlooked, by human error, and those employees responsible have been fired.

City Manager Mark Barber said staff followed all protocol set by Georgia EPD to notify the public and place signs in accessible locations. The city is also required to test the water around the spill site every day for one year, which began at the time of the spill.

But many residents said that's not enough, asking for quicker notification on public websites, more signs along the river when it's unsafe and more consistent testing at multiple locations.

"We do want a little bit more because what they say is working today, it's not working, and I think throwing money at more equipment is not going to fix the people problem, and I think this is a people problem," said Hamilton County resident Denise Shirey.

Shirey was one of several North Florida residents speaking out at Wednesday's meeting. Her main concern is the safety of well water in her neighborhood, saying since moving to the county she has suffered from severe skin irritation and sores. Shirey explained she has seen several doctors without any explanation, and the well water is the only cause she can think of.

"There are people in our neighborhood that don't shower using the wells, I have one gentleman neighborhood who uses bottles of distilled water to take his shower," Shirey said.

Other community members spoke out Wednesday, asking who is going to be financially responsible for costs incurred from the latest spill. Valdosta city officials said they are working with the contractor, EMC, out of Alabama, to determine what costs they are responsible for covering.

The next task force meeting will be April 8 in Valdosta.

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