A challenge of the land disturbance permits issued for Atlanta’s planned public safety training center has been appealed to the Superior Court of DeKalb County.
DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry filed paperwork on Wednesday against the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision that the county acted appropriately during its lengthy permit review process for the construction site.
Terry wasn’t immediately available for comment Thursday morning.
DeKalb County gave the go ahead for construction to begin in January, nearly a year after Atlanta applied for land disturbance permits to build the facility.
In February, two DeKalb County residents, along with Terry, filed a formal appeal of the permits which accused the city and county of overlooking existing restrictions on sediment discharges.
But the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the challenge during a meeting in April after unanimously deciding that the county’s months-long process to issue the permits complied with all requirements, and denied a request to halt the project.
A Fulton County Judge also denied an injunction that would have pressed pause on construction prior to the zoning board’s decision.
The appeal to the Superior Court of DeKalb County argues again that the planning director for the county overlooked environmental concerns caused by additional sediment deposited into Intrenchment Creek due to construction.
“The (Zoning Board of Appeals) erred by upholding the land development permit because the proposed construction will add sediment into Intrenchment Creek in violation of state law,” the new filing reads and requests the Superior Court takes up the case for review.
DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Commission is considering raising the stormwater utility fee for residents for 2023-2025. The board deferred the vote during its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 9.
The commission will discuss the fee at its next committee of the whole meeting, which is scheduled for May 16.
The residential stormwater utility fee is currently $4 per residential unit. If the proposed increase is approved, the fee will increase to $8 per month in 2023, $9 per month in 2024, and $10 per month in 2025 and for subsequent years.
The county has not increased the stormwater utility fees since 2004. The utility was created in 2003 and became operational in 2004.
“It has been almost 20 years since we’ve had a stormwater rate increase, so this is not an option,” Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson said. “It is now absolutely necessary due to the cost associated with the program. However, I want everyone to be comfortable with what is happening here. I believe that before we move the item forward officially, we should have a conversation in committee as to the rollout so that the public is completely engaged and aware.”
Some of the county’s stormwater infrastructure includes many retention ponds, catch basins, storm drain pipes, ditches, culverts, headwalls, and outfalls.
“To me, it is not apparent that this fee increase will be enough to handle that entire load, but this is a good start,” Commissioner Ted Terry said. “It’s a good movement in the direction of clearing the many, many years of backlogs.”
The county needs help when it comes to stormwater infrastructure, Presiding Officer Robert Patrick added.
DeKalb’s public works and infrastructure committee recommended approval of the agenda item with a 2-1 vote on May 2. Terry voted no. Terry, Cochran-Johnson and Patrick are on the PWI committee.
Some concerns have been raised about making sure the community has an opportunity to learn more about the increase. In an email to other commissioners dated May 4, Terry said he asked for a two-week deferral to better inform the public.
“Regardless of how many discussions were had at PWI on this issue, no one from the public were in attendance at these meetings, and no other commissioners were at those meetings,” he said. “The public now knows about this agenda item simply because it was put on the agenda Tuesday, by the CEO.”
Terry added the increases could lead to sticker shock for some customers.
“Some of our largest payees of these fees are schools and churches,” Terry wrote. “And those institutions know nothing about this… but they will find out pretty quickly once they get a surprise in their tax bill mailing later this summer, amounting to thousands of dollars in unplanned for fees that will now have to be addressed mid-way through their budget years.”
DeKalb Public Works Director Richard Lemke said during the May 2 PWI committee meeting that prices have increased over the last 20 years, and the county has had a decreasing ability to maintain the stormwater system.
“We’ve got infrastructure that’s failing simply due to age,” Lemke said. “What we’re trying to do is accommodate the needs of the system and of the infrastructure and our ability to provide the maintenance that this county so badly needs on that infrastructure.”
The increased fee would allow the county to hire additional crews to perform stormwater work, such as pipe and pond maintenance.
In the eyes of the court, Commissioner Ted Terry may technically call himself “aggrieved,” but you wouldn’t know it to speak with him. A dedicated environmentalist in the sprawling Atlanta suburbs and a committed progressive in the American southeast, Terry is used to being a bit of a contrarian, albeit a highly productive one. As a two-term Mayor of Clarkston, Georgia, Terry made headway on issues from LBGTQ+ and immigrant rights to adaptive reuse of a local mall. Now that he’s on the DeKalb County Commission, he finds himself squarely in the middle of one of the most contentious and high-profile political stories in the country: the proposed Atlanta Police Training Facility in the South River Forest. On this episode of The Possible City, Commissioner Terry talks with Cate and Kerry about his entry into politics working on pedestrian safety issues and how we weave housing, economic stability, the environment, and public safety – all hot-button issues! – into a coherent and practical political worldview.
Join Commissioner Terry, his team, and guest speakers to discuss Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency for a DeKalb Green New Deal. Learn about what DeKalb County has already done to mitigate climate change, and join us in visioning a green, just future.
oin Commissioner Terry, his team, and guest speakers for a discussion on Conservation and Access to Nature for a DeKalb Green New Deal. Learn about what DeKalb County has already done to mitigate climate change and join us in visioning a green, just future.
Join Commissioner Terry, his team, and guest speakers for a discussion on creating a Just and Equitable DeKalb Green New Deal. Learn about what DeKalb County has already done to mitigate climate change and join us in visioning a green, just future.
In addition, Terry plans to introduce a resolution to allocate $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for a Green New Deal development fund at the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 18.
“As we know, climate change is already here,” Terry said while explaining why he feels DeKalb needs the initiative to address climate change. “Georgia is one of the fastest warming states in the country.”
Storms are increasing in frequency and severity, causing more frequent flooding, which puts lives and property at risk and strains emergency services, Terry said. Heat waves, flooding, and erosion will affect agriculture in many parts of the state and strain the power grid and other infrastructure.
Terry says that the goal of a DeKalb Green New Deal is to simultaneously address the effects of climate change on the county while creating new jobs through renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green infrastructure.
A Federal Green New Deal introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 did not pass. Still, some of the same policies were incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Terry said that hundreds of millions of dollars are available through grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the US Department of Agriculture.
“This really is the best time to act,” Terry said.
Terry said that less than 2% of DeKalb County remains undeveloped, including 3000 acres of the South River Forest. Most of the forest is currently zoned industrial, therefore, not protected. The South River Forest also includes the proposed site of the controversial police training facility called “Cop City” by activists.
Dr. Jacqueline Echols, Board President of the South River Watershed Alliance (SWRA), said that she got involved in conservation because of a 1999 consent decree between the EPA and the City of Atlanta, which came about because the city was dumping raw sewage into the Chattahoochee and South Rivers. She began work related to the consent decree after receiving her doctorate in Political Science from Clark Atlanta in 1999.
Echols said that the South River is a headwater of the Ocmulgee-Altamaha River Basin, which drains about one-quarter of the state of Georgia, and is one of the three largest river basins in the Eastern Seaboard.
Echols said that DeKalb has been the major source of sewage pollution in that river system since 1961, and in 2010, five decades of violations resulted in an EPA-enforced consent decree.
Echols said that 76% of residents along the upper South River corridor from south Atlanta to south DeKalb County are Black. Eighty-six percent are non-white people of color. Pollution contributes to significantly higher rates of health problems such as asthma among those populations, who are 80-100% more likely to live near wastewater discharge.
“What’s going on with the Atlanta forest is probably one of the most horrific environmental injustices that is taking place in this country today,” Echols said.
Echols explained that despite some improvements, Atlanta and DeKalb wastewater still pollutes the South River water system, affecting everything downstream, including places like Macon that take drinking water from the Ocmulgee watershed.
“The system operates by overflowing. So, you need the green space along the creek and the river to clean the water as it moves downstream,” Echols said.
Increased stormwater due to climate change, along with any development that will increase runoff, is likely to worsen existing erosion and pollution problems, which will cost taxpayers money to fix.
“The city of Stonecrest has committed over a million dollars to dealing with the stormwater at Panola Shoals. It comes from Atlanta. It comes from upstream,” Echols said.
Echols said that SRWA does cleanups, water sampling, and advocacy. The organization is currently working on encouraging recreational use of the river, which is key to dismantling what Echols calls a “culture of avoidance” and improving water quality. Echols said that since the Georgia Environmental Protection Department prioritizes recreational areas, encouraging recreational use is part of protecting the river.
Terry said that in addition to offering information, part of the purpose of the events this week is to seek input about the community’s priorities. Terry said that the resolution he presents to the Board of Commissioners on April 18 only sets aside money and that specific projects will be brought back before the board for a vote.
“For instance, last year, we did $10,000 to the Decatur Greenway to build a bioswale,” Terry said. At least 40% of the fund will go to communities impacted the most by climate change and environmental injustice, including those along the upper South River corridor described by Echols.
Terry said that Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding could be used in addition to the ARPA funds for some of this work. Terry said that the legislature has passed a new “clean” SPLOST for DeKalb, and the Board of Commissioners will meet next Thursday at 10 am to discuss projects.
Terry said that he hopes to build on past successes and plans to hold a DeKalb Green New Deal summit on Oct. 14 of this year to discuss what has been accomplished up to that point.
“We can lead for ourselves and encourage others by doing so,” Terry said.
The “DeKalb Green New Deal” kickoff event is set to take place on April 17 as part of Earth Week celebrations in DeKalb County.
Hosted by Super District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry, the initiative aims to engage the community in local climate action and advocate for greener public policy.
The Maloof Auditorium in Decatur will house the event from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Terry emphasized the need for transformative investments to address ongoing health, economic, racial justice, and climate crises.
“The time is now to advocate, innovate and execute transformative investments that address the interconnected and ongoing health, economic, racial justice and climate crises we are facing today,” said Commissioner Terry. “The DeKalb Green New Deal initiatives that I seek to initiate will focus on strategies that DeKalb County can implement to help meet President Biden’s ambitious climate and environmental justice goals and build an equitable, pollution-free future.”
Following the launch, Earth Week will feature town halls, webinars, and educational opportunities for county residents. The Zoom Webinar Series includes discussions on a Just and Equitable Green New Deal (April 18), Clean and Efficient Energy (April 19), and Conservation and Access to Nature (April 20), all taking place from 7 to 8 p.m.
Super District 6 Commissioner Ted Terry, elected in 2020, represents about 350,000 residents from South, Central, and North DeKalb. His platform focuses on affordable housing, transit equity, the DeKalb Green New Deal, DeKalb voting rights, and criminal justice reform. For more information about Commissioner Terry and his platforms, visit www.commissionertedterry.com.