Atlanta to Raise $4.5 Billion to
Improve its Sewer Pipes

Stacy Shelton - Staff
Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Atlanta is slowly fixing its aging sewer pipes and plants that for years polluted the Chattahoochee River --- a "Herculean" task, according to Mayor Bill Campbell.

During Campbell's administration, the city has committed $2.6 billion to fixing the problems. On Monday, the mayor announced another $1.9 billion infusion during the next 14 years --- long after he's left office at the end of this year. The investment, paid for with bonds, a possible privatization of the sewer system and almost certain rate increases, should knock the federal monkey off the city's back.

"No city in America in the next 10 years will have a better ecological (sewer) system," Campbell said at a news conference.

Campbell likened the city's sewers to a 100-year-old man who shows up at a hospital emergency room, barely walking and unable to talk.

The city is having to resuscitate him "under the scrutiny of the courts and the media," Campbell said.

That may be true, said John Hankinson Jr., regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but "the patient had been to the emergency room earlier and hadn't been properly treated."

The pointed remark was aimed at past efforts by the city to apply Band-Aids when transplants were in order.

Since a costly 1995 lawsuit went against Atlanta and a federal order that came down several years ago, the city has worked to fix its sewage system. .

The new plan starts today, when an Atlanta City Council committee discusses a more than $100 million program management contract with Montgomery Watson Inc. to oversee construction for at least five years.

After years of knocking heads with city leaders, federal and state regulators praised Atlanta's efforts. Under a 2-year-old consent decree that spells out thousands of tasks and deadlines, Atlanta has paid $4.1 million in fines. The promise offered Monday is that those days are over.

"I am delighted with the progress that's being made now," Hankinson said.

State Environmental Protection Division Director Harold Reheis congratulated the mayor and Atlanta City Council on what he said were "great improvements" in the city's sewers. Instead of lagging, Reheis said the city will lead the nation with a revitalized waste water system.

One critic said the city should have made the investment long ago.

"Bill Campbell's been aware of this problem now for 15 years," said Steve Carr, a neighborhood environmental watchdog. "The city of Atlanta would not be doing what it's doing without the lawsuit by the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. It just wouldn't be."