Local News

Schools Feel Heat of Strict Water Pollution Enforcement

Posted July 29, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— The state is cracking down on people who are polluting the water, and hog farms and city sewer systems are not the only ones feeling the heat.

The state is handing out much bigger and more frequent fines to much smaller sewage systems like the one atChatham Central High School.

Hog farms and sewage plants are not the only ones written up for water pollution violations. Smaller waste systems at North Carolina schools, mobile home parks and businesses have also been fined by theDivision of Water Quality.

"The signal is out there. The regulated community is finding out," said Ernie Seneca, water quality spokesman.

The state began stricter enforcement of smaller waste water systems a year ago. Chatham Central High School has received more fines than nearly anyone else.

"I think we are more or less a victim of circumstance," said Paul Joyce, assistant superintendent.

The school has been cited eight times, and the fines total more than $15,000. None of it has been paid.

Chatham County has appealed. It says it has tried to get the waste system in compliance.

"But they wanted to know if we could do it, say at Easter. We had one week, and it took more than a week to do it. What do you do with 400 kids while you're doing it?" said Joyce.

The state has let some of the waste system violators off the hook. Since it began more aggressive enforcement, it has handed out $3 million in fines, but it has collected half of that.

"The enforcement policy is intended to get people in compliance," said Seneca.

Violators, including Chatham County, say the policy could use some tweaking.

"It's not like we are pulling a plug and dumping it out on purpose," said Joyce.

The state says it is getting an increased number of appeals and the number of people who want the fines reduced.