DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Dekalb's watershed department has faced enough problems in the past that it is now under federal oversight, but leaders say the main that broke Wednesday wasn't on their radar.
“This wasn't an example of neglect of the system or an existing vulnerability that we knew we had,” DeKalb County Commission Chairman Jeff Rader said.
The 48-inch line that broke early Wednesday morning was only 20 years old and had received maintenance in recent years. Rader says the pipe would not have raised a flag to government leaders, who have identified aging pipelines for repairs using a system that's cut out the need to bring several contractors into the mix. Instead, a group with multiple skill sets can propose rate and get on with the job.
“So we can then give them a task order and send them to work without having to then go through a bidding process,” Rader said.
On Wednesday afternoon, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond announced a full-scale investigation into the break.
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“The DeKalb County Government will initiate a full-scale investigation into the cause of today's massive water main break. We will determine whether the break was the result of a systematic failure, improper maintenance, wear and tear or physical tampering. I am committed to making sure our infrastructure is protected and maintained in a manner that will ensure quality service to the citizens of DeKalb County,” Thurmond said in a statement.
The break comes one day after the director of DeKalb County watershed, Scott Towler, resigned.
Towler’s resignation letter accused the watershed department and the county CEO of retaliatory actions for his "refusal to violate the law and participate in unlawful issues.” It ties back to the county's consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency that ensures sanitary sewer system improvements.
“I really appreciated Mr. Towler's expertise, but no one person makes the system,” Rader said.
He called the timing on Towler’s scathing letter and the massive break an unrelated coincidence, but pointed out an auditor will explore accusations.
“I think if there's a bottom to get to, we're going to get to it,” Rader said.
The chairman of the watershed oversight board called Towler's exit a huge loss for the county.
Rader reiterated that infrastructure issues have spanned decades and it is still unclear what caused the main to break Wednesday.
Cox Media Group