Plant management, however, says such penalties will be avoided, citing significant progress being made in recent months to correct the problems, including a local company lessening its discharges of formaldehyde into the city treatment system.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management on July 29 ordered Oxford's Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant to show detailed reports of its progress in managing its pollution discharges into Choccolocco Creek. Failure to comply could mean thousands of dollars in penalties — the latest in a string of warnings and penalties from ADEM to bring the Oxford facility into compliance with its permit.
The treatment plant has 90 days from the issuance of the ADEM order to submit its reports on how it’s fixing its problems, said Scott Hughes, spokesman for ADEM. The facility also has a year from the order to be in full compliance, Hughes said.
"If they don't comply, then they open themselves up to additional enforcement actions including civil penalties," Hughes said.
ADEM levied a $20,450 penalty against the treatment plant last year for discharge violations into the creek.
Wayne Livingston, general manager of the Oxford Water Works and Sewer Board, which operates the treatment plant, said much has been done at the facility in recent months to comply with the latest order. Livingston said the facility's pre-treatment standards are being modified to ensure it can handle discharges from area industries.
Livingston added that the Eastaboga industry partially responsible for the plant's problems in recent years, wood-paneling manufacturer Kronospan, has corrected its issues and is no longer dumping excessive pollution into the treatment facility.
"Things are working out pretty good now," Livingston said. "The Kronospan problem we’ve been having ... we’re now handling it with no problem."
Attempts to reach Kronospan for comment today were unsuccessful.
ADEM in January formally requested Kronospan address its pollution issues, citing the company was discharging formaldehyde into Oxford's treatment system. Formaldehyde is a chemical used to manufacture building materials and household products.
Hughes said Kronospan has since complied with the regulation request, installing equipment in June to treat its discharges before releasing them into the sewer system.
"According to the latest discharge reports, it has made a significant improvement," Hughes said.
According to ADEM, between August 2011 and February 2013, the agency cited the Oxford treatment plant for 36 separate permit violations. The violations were mainly for excess discharges of total suspended solids and not putting enough oxygen back into the creek. Frank Chitwood of Coosa Riverkeeper said such violations can hurt the wildlife in the creek. Coosa Riverkeeper is a nonprofit with the goal of protecting, restoring and promoting the Coosa River.
"Total suspended solids are small particulates suspended in water ... they can go into a creek and get deposited on rocks, which are the habitats for most of the critters out there," Chitwood said. "And depending on the buildup, they can clog the gills of fish."
Chitwood added that a proper oxygen amount must be maintained for water discharges into the creek for the creatures living there to survive.
Meanwhile, ADEM is in the process of re-issuing the facility's operations permit for another four years. The permit expired in November 2012. Both the Coosa Riverkeepers and the Logan Martin Protection Association say they do not support the permit's re-issuance due to the treatment plant's pollution history and its management's alleged refusal to deal with the discharges from Kronospan.
"It's their responsibility to treat it and if they can't, then they should deny it," Chitwood said of the Oxford plant. "They are required to take all reasonable steps ... to minimize violation of their permit ... and I think denying discharges from Kronospan would be reasonable."
Mike Riley, president of the Logan Martin Protection Association, said his organization is concerned about what untreated chemicals might have flowed from the treatment plant, through Choccolocco Creek and into Logan Martin Lake.
"That creek is heavily used by a lot of people," Riley said. "We definitely want it safe for the people living here."
Riley said his group next month will send out two water pollution testers to Logan Martin to see what pollutants might have made their way there from the Oxford treatment plant.
Livingston said the treatment plant processes millions of gallons of water daily and identifying problems, much less fixing them, takes a significant amount of time.
"We can't turn it off so we can go find the problem," Livingston said. "And then you've got to correct the problem with millions of gallons of water coming through."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.