Did DeKalb developer get special privileges?

A new tactic to let one developer tie into DeKalb County's sewer system without a backup plan has environmentalists up in arms and county watershed management officials concerned.  

And, now, FOX 5 I-Team senior reporter Dale Russell has learned DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond has ordered a law department investigation of all new sewer connections.

This all began when the Environmental Protection Agency took DeKalb to court alleging the county violated the Clean Water Act because of hundreds of waste water spills into local rivers and streams.  An agreement was signed in 2011 requiring DeKalb to eliminate the spills

But DeKalb, battling an aging, porous sewer system is still besieged by sewer spills. There have been 120 spills already this year and a recent $294,000 EPA fine for earlier spills and underreporting the number of spills.

Under the EPA agreement, a developer must request to tie into the county system; then the county checks for capacity. If there isn't any, the developer has to create a backup sewer plan. That can get expensive.

But, according to emails obtained by the FOX 5 I-Team, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Ted Rhinehart issued letters to one only builder, Thrive Homes, bypassing the capacity study and allowing the developer on 6 different projects to move forward since the developments were small and sewage would have a "deminimus (small) impact to the larger (sewer) system."

Rhinehart indicated in an email that the developer faced time-sensitive issues with pre sold units.

We asked Michael Thurmond if the developer was getting a special favor. He answered:  “Not to my knowledge.”

Rhinehart wrote Watershed Management director Scott Towler that he wanted to do the same thing in the future for other developments with "small number of residential units (10 or fewer)" Towler's response: that plan puts DeKalb "in noncompliance" with the EPA agreement and the department can't "continue to ignore the legal requirements" of the environmental agreement. 

Thurmond’s spokesperson told us Mr. Thurmond initiated an internal law department investigation of all new sewer connections back on July 10th.

“This (controversy) ends,” says Thurmond. “We will have a policy that is transparent, that is objective.”

Tell that to developer Tony Pourhassan. Pourhassan was stunned when we told him the county was letting another small developer build without a backup sewer plan.He is trying to build a small 5 house in-fill development, but just got approval of his back up sewer plan - required by the county. A plan that will cost him an extra $25,000 per house. 

“If they're not going to make somebody else do it, they shouldn't make us do it.”