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Accidental damage to sewer line causes sewage spill

LAWRENCEVILLE - A contractor replacing an outdated sewer line for the county damaged the pipe Monday, causing a major sewer spill in the Norcross area.

That accident, which sent 21,450 gallons of raw sewage into the North Fork of Peachtree Creek, occurred behind the Danbury Village apartments off Greenwood Drive, according to a county report released Tuesday.

The contractor, Site Engineering, repaired the damage to the pipe and will pay any fines the state might levy, county Public Utilities Director Frank Stephens said.

Any spill involving more than 10,000 gallons of raw sewage is considered major by the state Environmental Protection Division.

But because Gwinnett spends large sums of money maintaining its sewer system in an effort to prevent overflows, it has a special agreement with the state whereby fines generally don't kick in unless a spill is 30,000 gallons or more, an EPD official said.

The accident Monday occurred when heavy machinery being used near a manhole caused the below-ground structure to shift, Stephens said. The movement was enough to break a clay sewer pipe that connected to the concrete box, Stephens said.

The work was being done as part of an $853,000 project that is replacing an aged, unreliable sewer line near Jimmy Carter Boulevard with a larger pipe.

"We regret that this happened," Stephens said. "We're always striving to do better, and in fact this one was caused because we were out there replacing a sewer that has caused problems in the past."

Gwinnett has not been fined for a sewer spill since 2004, said Scott Robertson, an environment specialist with state EPD's Permitting, Compliance and Enforcement

Program.

At that time, the county paid a $17,600 fine stemming from four spills - three in 2003, one in 2004 - that topped 30,000 gallons, Robertson said.

The North Fork of Peachtree Creek originates west of Lilburn near Jimmy Carter Boulevard. From there it flows into DeKalb County and forms Peachtree Creek after meeting the south fork near Cheshire Bridge Road.

After flowing through Atlanta, Peachtree Creek enters the Chattahoochee River.