U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash, who signed two consent decrees in 1999 that led Atlanta to begin a $4 billion sewer overhaul during the last decade, said May 19 he is troubled by the city’s request for 15 more years to comply.

Judge Thrash gave Atlanta only until 2014 to complete the improvements.

Earlier this month, city officials asked state and federal environmental regulators to extend that compliance date another 15 years to 2029, because of shrinking revenues that are making it harder to fund the work.

The judge said, “The city is taking actions now that are going to inevitably lead it to miss deadlines. That is of great concern to me. … It’s not a matter of negotiation.”

During a status conference, Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Goncher defended the city’s request saying the city already has completed most of the work, eliminating more than 95 percent of the sewage overflows that prompted the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Inc. to file the lawsuit that led to the consent decrees.

Shrinking tax revenues brought on by the recession combined with declining water use by conservation-minded Atlanta customers reportedly are hurting the Department of Watershed Management’s bottom line.

Bill Weinischke, senior attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Section, said his office is reviewing the city’s request for a delay in the compliance deadline and will report back to the court when the analysis is complete.

-John Schaffner

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