ATHENS — Around 3,000 fish were killed recently when a sewer line on East Pryor Street near the former Pilgrim's Pride site overflowed into an unnamed tributary leading to Swan Creek, according to state officials.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management's sanitary sewer overflow event reporting form shows that the discharge didn’t reach designated swimming water, and no public water supply intake locations were affected.
The form indicates that the estimated volume discharge was in a range of 1,000 to 10,000 gallons, and the overflow began at 8 a.m. May 22 and stopped at 10 a.m. that day. The source of the discharge was a manhole, according to the report.
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said the overflow incident was “100 percent worker error” and was not related to the Pilgrim's Pride property cleanup.
“We're waiting for a final ADEM report,” Marks said. “It is a serious issue, and we’re taking it seriously."
Chris Greene, the assistant fisheries chief of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said that a preliminary report from its investigation showed roughly 13 different species were affected. A mix of game fish, including largemouth bass and bluegill, and nongame fish, including the slackwater darter, were viewed during the kill, the preliminary report said.
The slackwater darter is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The role of Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries in an on-site investigation is to get “an idea of the environmental damage,” Greene said, and ADEM will determine the cause.
Greene didn’t give a breakdown on the number of each species that were affected.
ADEM was notified of the incident at 10:40 a.m. May 22, according to the ADEM form. The city reported the incident to ADEM and posted warning signs at the scene, according to Marks.
According to the form, cleanup measures were completed at 2:30 p.m. on May 24, with the area around the manhole disinfected, the creek cleaned with rakes and the banks sprayed with fresh water from a water truck.
Lynn Battle, an ADEM spokesperson, said the department’s event reporting form can be updated as more information becomes available.
“We are still gathering information,” she said. “We’re still in the reviewing stage.”
Marks said the overflow occurred during routine maintenance on a sewer line. The line was “bagged” or plugged to allow for maintenance and to run a camera to check for any issues. The ADEM report said Athens Wastewater employees left the plug in the line for too long, resulting in the overflow at a manhole.
The report said the crew members involved in the incident were disciplined, and Marks didn’t elaborate.
The ADEM form also stated that the Fish and Wildlife Service was notified and took samples from upstream and downstream.