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$266,653 Judgment in Lawsuit Challenging Alabama Prison’s Improper Sewage Discharge

$266,653 Judgment in Lawsuit Challenging Alabama Prison’s Improper Sewage Discharge

by David Reutter

Following a settlement agreement between Black Warrior Riverkeeper (Riverkeeper) and Alabama Utility Services (AUS), a judgment was entered in a lawsuit that alleged the sewage treatment plant at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility (DCF) had discharged pollutants into Big Branch, a tributary upstream of Bankhead Lake on the Black Warrior River.

In 2004, Riverkeeper sent the Alabama Department of Corrections a notice of intent to sue over DCF’s improper discharge of sewage. The notice compelled the Alabama Department of Environment Management (ADEM) to take action.

“Unfortunately, ADEM did not pursue a lasting fix and, by 2009, the plant again began discharging improperly treated sewage to Big Branch,” stated Nelson Brooke with Riverkeeper. “We took legal action in 2013 to halt water pollution upstream of where countless people live, swim, and fish.”

The lawsuit detailed DCF’s nearly two decades of environmental permit violations at the prison’s sewage treatment plant. According to the lawsuit, overcrowding at DCF, which was designed for 700 prisoners and now houses almost 1,500, was a factor in the violations. Riverkeeper raised claims under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1365.

The parties agreed to a settlement and consent decree in September 2014 that was approved by the district court. Specifically, AUS agreed that it would “comply fully with all permits issued to it by” ADEM, and make improvements at DCF.

“AUS will invest in critical repairs and upgrades at the Donaldson plant, which should ensure that the facility complies with the law now and in the future,” stated Eva Dillard, Riverkeeper’s staff attorney. “As a result of the lawsuit and settlement, the plant will be totally refurbished.”

The settlement also required AUS to pay $100,000 in annual increments of $10,000, beginning March 1, 2017, “for the establishment of a Supplemental Environment Project” to the Freshwater Land Trust, which will carry out the project in the Valley Creek Watershed of the Black Warrior River. Additionally, AUS agreed to pay $25,000 in attorney fees and litigation costs to Riverkeeper.

The district court retained jurisdiction over the consent decree and entered a final judgment on April 7, 2015. The court noted that AUS did not deny that since the settlement agreement was finalized it had “failed to perform any of the required obligations” under the agreement beyond a $2,000 partial payment of attorney fees. Therefore, judgment was entered against AUS for a total of $243,653.78, including the cost of the Supplemental Environmental Project and penalties, payable to the Freshwater Land Trust, plus the remaining balance of $23,000 in attorney fees and costs payable to Riverkeeper. See: Black Warrior Riverkeeper v. Thomas, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ala.), Case No. 2:13-cv-00410-AKK.


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Related legal case

Black Warrior Riverkeeper v. Thomas