DeKalb County’s government will help local residents organize a task force to create a series of clean-up options for the polluted South River, CEO Burrell Ellis said.
The solution was announced Aug. 16 at a meeting for the Miners Creek Circle Civic Association whose residents, in many cases, live along the river or nearby. Residents who attended the meeting at Wesley Chapel-William C. Brown Library in Decatur were mostly there to listen and convey their frustrations with the polluted waterway to county officials.
Some local residents have expressed concerns since county officials erected signs July 26 on a sand dune next to the river near the Park Greenways Trail property, banning people from going in the water. The river has been on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s impaired waters list since the early ‘90s because it didn’t meet quality standards and tested positive for fecal coliform.
Many took issue with bad smells they said come from the river.
“Why on this side of town do we always have to be victims?” said Joel Edwards, 64, of Decatur.
“We have to fight for every service we get,” said Geraldine Champion, vice president of the civic association and host of the forum, which attracted a few dozen residents.
County officials spent most of the time taking notes of residents’ concerns and repeating claims that the sand dune at the end of the trail was naturally occurring – not designed by county officials so local residents could wade in the river. The county will plant vegetation along the bank on that property in the fall to discourage anyone considering going in the water, Ellis said.
“It’s for hiking, and it’s for biking,” he said. “It gives for a very nice, relaxing walk. … But (it’s) not for swimming.”
Some residents said the county inadvertently encouraged locals to get in the water by making the park so attractive.
“Who decided to build a nature trail near water where you have to wear a gas mask to walk?” Faye Gottfield asked.
Ted Rhinehardt, deputy chief operating officer for infrastructure, acknowledged that may have been an unintended consequence.
Though county officials claim they never touched the sand, Champion claimed many residents saw county trucks driving on top of the sand.
“Once that truck spread that sand it gave it that beach effect,” Champion said. “You made it so attractive I wanted to go in there, and I’ve seen feces floating down there.”
The evening wasn’t without its politicking. Republican congressional candidate for the 4th District, Liz Carter, asked Ellis and company to pressure the federal government, which, she said, owns part of the river.
“I just don’t want (clean-up costs) to come out of our pockets first,” she said.
Vernon Jones, who lost in last month’s Democratic primary for the 4th District congressional seat, said he intended for people to get in the water. Jones preceded Ellis as county CEO. He said he took responsibility for the project and any inadvertent consequences.
“The South River was stinking before I got on this Earth, and it’ll stink after I leave it,” he said.
Still, residents demanded improvements.
“All we want is that river worked on and cleaned,” one resident said. “We’re not going to quit until that river is clean.”