• Counties and state among Georgia's biggest polluters

    By: Aaron Diamant

    Updated:

    None - A Channel 2 investigation found several local governments on a list among Georgia’s worst polluters.
    Investigative reporter Aaron Diamant spent weeks digging through state records and uncovered the incredible amount of money taxpayers shell out for fines related to the pollution.

    Diamant broke down the Environmental Protection Division’s database of all enforcement actions taken since 1998 and learned public entities are Georgia’s biggest polluters. Dozens of governments racked up more than $14 million in fines, and those are costs covered by taxpayers.

    "Taxpayers should absolutely be angry about it," said taxpayer advocate Jared Thomas.

    "The governments just decide, OK, it is cheaper for us to just impose this back on our taxpayers and pay the fine than it would be to figure out a way to fix this, and that is not what taxpayers deserve," Thomas said.

    Crunching the numbers, Diamant found DeKalb County taxpayers face the biggest fines, more than $1.2 million dollars.



    "We have acknowledged that we have an issue," said Joe Basista, DeKalb's Watershed Management Director.  He admitted, like so many local governments, DeKalb never had a long-term plan to keep its aging sewer system in good shape.

    Now the federal government is forcing DeKalb County to make major upgrades that will take years to complete and could cost taxpayers more than a $1 billion.

    Documents also showed the EPD slapped the Georgia Department of Transportation and its contractors with the most fines, around $1.3 million – mostly for letting too much dirt get into Georgia waterways.

    "Ultimately it's always our responsibility. They're our projects," said David Spear, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

    Still, this year, the transportation department pushed for a new state law making it exempt from paying environmental fines.

    "The state is essentially fining itself and moving money from state pot of money to another state pot of money," Spear said. The bill failed.

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    "They have been habitual violators of clean water laws for years," said Jason Ulseth, the technical programs director for Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. "We need fines in the system to act as a deterrent."

    Every Thursday, rain or shine, the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper fan out across metro Atlanta to test waterways, just one of the ways local governments find out about pollution problems.

    Taxpayer advocates have another solution for all those agencies racking up fines at our expense.

    "Find a way to do your job better, and then you won't have to pay the fines, said taxpayer advocate Jared Thomas.

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