DeKalb CEO says systemic racism ultimately behind continued sewage spills in county

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Dekalb County’s CEO says systemic racism led to major sewage spills on the county’s south side.

Channel 2 Action News has been following the complaints from DeKalb residents for years.

County leaders told Channel 2′s Sophia Choi on Monday that those spills have prevented businesses from moving in — stunting the growth of the community.

Some 41 miles of pipe are currently being replaced throughout the Snapfinger Basin, which is primarily in southern DeKalb County.

That area makes up about 91 percent of the county’s sewage spills in terms of volume.

Resident Mykel Seabrooks says his community is sick of repeated spills.

“That would have you feeling some type of way being over here,” Seabrooks said.

The sewage spills usually happen when the system reaches capacity. That means no room for new tie-ins, which means no new developments, no new businesses and no new jobs.

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“We need to do something, absolutely. We definitely need to do something because it’s not fair,” resident Venita Owens said.

DeKalb County announced a modification to the government’s consent decree on Monday to fix the county’s aging sewer system.

Most of the problems lie in the Snapfinger Basin, where decades of neglect led to more than 21 million gallons of raw sewage spilling since the beginning of this year.

County CEO Michael Thurmond said the root of the problem is systemic racism.

“There’s a racial component, and the oldest part of the system is in the neighborhoods that are disproportionately African American,” Thurmond said.

Based on that argument, the federal and state governments agreed to give DeKalb $340 million to replace 80-year-old trunk lines that are full of cracks and clogs.

Thurmond met Choi on Monday at the county’s Roadhaven Watershed site, where he explained how smaller pipes tie into the major lines at that site and bring sewage into a large holding tank.

The CEO said even if you live in north DeKalb, you should care about what happens in the south.

“We’re all in this together. A spill in south DeKalb that ultimately ends up in the South River impacts the environment of all of our citizens,” Thurmond said.

With the modification to the consent decree, DeKalb now has 7 more years to get the work done.