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Raw Sewage and a Raw Deal in Rochelle, GA

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View Terry Winckler's blog posts
03 May 2013, 11:00 AM
When the town's toilets flush, guess what ends up in African-American yards
Nine residents of Rochelle, GA are suing their city government for discharging the city's raw sewage onto their properties.

Alisa Coe and Bradley Marshall—attorneys in our Florida office—took off on a two-hour drive last month and ended up 60 years away in the rural Georgia town of Rochelle, where black people live on one side of a railroad track and whites on the other.

You’ve heard of this place if you pay attention to news; last weekend the national media was reporting on the local high school’s first interracial prom … ever.

But even as the media focused on the prom, Alisa and Bradley faced up to the town’s mayor and chief of police, who bullied the two attorneys as they investigated claims that the city’s sewer system routinely dumps raw sewage into the streets and yards of the black community (but not the white community). The mayor used his car to block the attorneys’ car when they drove into a black neighborhood, and then screamed and threatened them with arrest. The chief of police pulled up with his lights flashing and told the duo to call him before coming back to Rochelle.

Those fellas obviously didn’t know who they were messing with.

Alisa and Bradley are members of a legal team led by managing attorney David Guest, who is famous in Florida for such things as ignoring alligators as he wades through the Everglades investigating environmental offenses. The whole team’s infused with that spirit.

Monica Reimer, along with residents of Rochelle, investigate a manhole from which raw sewage flows into neighborhood backyards.Monica Reimer, along with residents of Rochelle, investigate a manhole from which raw sewage flows into neighborhood backyards.
View photo slideshow »

So—without calling the chief of police—Alisa and Monica Reimer, another attorney in our Florida office, went back to Rochelle a few days ago, armed with cameras to record evidence of environmental injustice and to document any more intimidation tactics. The bullies stayed away this time, letting the attorneys sign up, as clients, nine African-American residents who are tired of raw sewage bubbling up through manholes and pipes into their lives. After decades of living like this, they want it to end.

No one describes it better than Rufus Howard, a night shift worker who talks softly as he walks about his backyard showing puddles of raw sewage and describing how they can’t use the toilet or shower and can’t wash for days when sewage lines get full. He sums the issue up thusly:

They [city government] won’t do something about it. They live comfortable and I want to live comfortable, too.

Raw sewage in Rufus Howard's backyard.Rufus Howard points to the raw sewage
flooding his backyard.  View photo slideshow »

It’s nothing more complicated than that. Rufus and all his friends and neighbors just want the simple comforts of the white community—not the raw sewage. They want nothing more than to flush away sewage, not use shovels to clear it off their properties.

Sixty years ago, folks in towns all over the South were fighting and dying for the unfettered right to vote, the right to sit in the front of buses, to eat in restaurants without checking their skin color at the door, and even for the right to use the bathroom without having to read racial directions on the door. As a very young boy in that bad old South, I saw bathroom signs that said, “White Only” or “Negro Only". Today, so many decades later, those printed signs are gone, but other signs of discrimination persist … all over the yards and streets of folks who asked Earthjustice to help force the ruling system to fix the sewage system on the black side of the railroad tracks.

Raw sewage pools in Mr. Howard's backyard.Raw sewage pools in Mr. Howard's backyard.
View photo slideshow »

Yesterday, that help began when Alisa filed an official demand with the city to correct its sewage discrimination or face the wrath of a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit. They have just 60 days. We'll keep you posted.

Just one more reason why the planet and its people need a good lawyer … like Alisa, Bradley and Monica.

I suspect it is NOT a coincidence that the north and south sides of town are racially as well as geographically separate.

why is this escalating this started as a problem with the prom, now its the sewage and now its also how people pick where they live? its basic psychology most people in a community will live near others of their own race, religion or in some cases income. and Rochelle is not the only city that is like Abbeville as well as Pitts and several cities in other counties are like this as well. what's next?

Hello. I am about as white as a person can GET. I can only afford to *own* a property in a "black" neighborhood. My parents have constantly insisted that it is somehow better for me to rent in any other neighborhood than to actually build equity and improve my credit rating in a neighborhood whose worst offense is that the people don't look like me. (These aren't "ghetto" neighborhoods; they look like nice suburban "white" neighborhoods, only with darker-skinned residents. Think the Cosby Show.) I don't care if my neighbors have purple skin and worship Xenu. I care if my neighbors are decent human beings. An all-white neighborhood, in my eyes, is full of racists, and therefore does not contain many decent human beings at all. Having a country club (a type of organization notorious for being a WASPS-only sort of place) is a double strike against a neighborhood, to me. I don't want to live among hateful people, regardless of their race, income, or socioeconomic status.

The segregation of Rochelle's neighborhoods is about RACISM, pure and simple. Why else would they have excluded black students from the prom for so many years? Why would one side of town be well-maintained, and the other be less livable than the slums of Calcutta? There is literally NO non-racist reason to keep all the black teens out of your school prom. There is also NO non-racist reason for an entire half of a town to be considered the "white side" or the "black side." The fact that the races are concentrated on different sides of the tracks is a symptom of RACISM.

"and Rochelle is not the only city that is like Abbeville as well as Pitts and several cities in other counties are like this as well."

Then those cities are also populated by RACIST PEOPLE. The principle of Occam's Razor says that the simplest explanation of a phenomenon is most likely to be the correct one. The simplest explanation for a town to divide itself so starkly along racial lines, AND for the "black" side of town to be so poorly maintained, is that the white people running the town are extremely racist people.

any time you bring the color of ones skin into a problem it instantly changes the focus from the real problem which is raw sewage being dumped into hard working tax paying home owners yards because the town government refuses to repair and update the sewage system on one side of town were the lower income families tend to live regardless of skin color or monetary wealth all people have the rite to not be forced to live in substandard areas were the problem presents a public heath hazard so stop focusing on the color of the skin and fix the problem and make the city officials that allowed this to be done pay outa pocket and be held personally responsible for their personal choices to not repair the sewage on the other side of the tracks and tragedies like this will end when and only when our government is held personally responsible for the choices they make that have a negative impact on the general public that they were elected to represent then the crooks will be weeded out of the system until then our government will continue to have failures like these

You are one dumb ignorant person!

This makes me laugh..... There are many other towns that are separated but people just want to point out Rochelle. Blacks choose to live the way they do... Whites have no control of that!

You have got to be kidding!! "Blacks choose to live the way they do" is such a bunch of bull. I am a white woman & I take offense to you trying be a representative of the white population.

That is a disgusting and arrogant comment....!!

Rochelle is simply one the latest examples of how discrimination manifests in communities.

But, please do tell us more about "the way blacks choose to live". The black population of Rochelle, the country, even the world, would like to know more! Especially the "no control" part!

Your avoiding the problem. There is no equality when the leaders replace sewer lines in the prominent white area while ignoring the prominet black area which is causing sewage and other problems in that part of town. Sounds like your prejudice and alot like those like wise in the south. I know as I lived most of my life in the south and see in small towns especially that the blacks do not get their fair share. God will do unto you as you do unto others, so one day you will get your judgement from him. I am ashamed of many of your from the south, the Bible belt of the country and backing up these corrupt in prjeduice elected officials.

You are a racist piece-of-shit. You need to go meet your maker right away, you sick, brain-dead, inbred moron.

Remember "he who laughs last" will come back at you.

The word you were searching for is "segregated," not "separated." And segregation is illegal. It's also anti-American - check your favorite founding documents.

Blacks choose the way they live do they? I'm just hazarding a guess here but I am sure the African Amercians that live there pay taxes for upkeep on the sewage system so why is it only theirs is always backing up. Explain the Einstein. There are times when I actually hate people, this is one of them.


Who chose the way you are living, you are one retarded person!

well can you blame them? if i was balck i wouldn't want to live around a bunch of honkys either ...

and there's an old native american saying "never camp down stream from a white man"

I believe it...........

Anonymous, you moron, you can't even SPELL "Black"...Duh.

Stop trolling!
Only a white person thinks that black people refer to them as "honkey". The word doesn't have any punch and sounds awkward when spoken.

I live in Rochelle and the "waste" is from backed up septic tanks, caused by several days of rain. Both communities share this problem. Unfortunately nobody cares about both sides of the tracks. If we did there wouldn’t be a story, and negative news like this article wouldn’t exist.

Septic tanks are isolated treatment systems (usually at individual homes) which do not connect to the City of Rochelle's sewage system. They do sometimes experience problems especially when improperly sited in areas prone to flooding. The City has obtained grant monies in recent years to move citizens off septic tanks on the south side of the tracks. The problem discussed in the article on the north side of town relates to Rochelle's sanitary sewage system, which is supposed to collect only sewage and not rain water. As a closed system, it should not be affected by rain water. The fact that it is and that these residents are experiencing such frequent back ups is evidence that the system is in disrepair and requires fixing. Nobody should have to live with raw sewage in their yards. Alisa Coe, Earthjustice attorney

Thank you for your work on behalf of these citizens, Alisa! As a Georgian (though not from that town), I'm appalled at the reception the local officials have given you.

Thank you for having the Earth's back!!!

OMG! How long has this been going on in Rochelle? Why are the Black residents just now speaking up about this?!

Presumably they have been complaining; their complaints just haven't been heard. Being in the public eye is often the only chance disadvantaged communities in America have. When nobody listens to your complaints or follows any of them up; when you can't just move to the nicer side of town; when everyone on top is against you, you're forced to put up with disgusting, dehumanizing conditions until someone from outside finally shows up to fix things.

It's not fair. And it's not right. And communities like Rochelle shouldn't have to wait for their town to make the national news, just to get bare-bones maintenance done on their sewage system.

Why are all of you posting as "Submitted by Anonymous?" Are you cowards, afraid of someone?!

Cowards posting as anonymous?...sounds about right.

Implying submitting as James D. Williams (not verified) means you're brave, unafraid or any less anonymous... :p

We are all one people. Get over the color thing. Everyone deserves to be treated equally. One nation, under God. Grow up, do what is right which is the way you desire to be treated, and everyone will feel much better.

I agree with your post, but please remember that we are all responsible for mitigating discrimination. The "oppressed" are not doing themselves any favors when they choose to segregate themselves. I can't speak to what is happening in this Georgia town because I have never been there; I can only read these posts of the authors and commenters who live there. I will say this, however: before jumping to conclusions, it is important to FULLY understand what is happening before accusing people of discrimination.

Indeed. Do which is right, which is pay for a new sanitary sewer for the neighborhood.

'Get over the color thing.'
WHAT?! The 'color thing' as you call it is the exact reason this is happening. This is very much an environmental racism issue and to try and ignore that or pretend otherwise is doing more hard than good and is just plain ignorant.


next time before writing any comments - read and understand what you refer to.

anonymous never mentioned anything about ignoring the problem...

and i agree entirely with his statement!

If they sheriff and mayor are such bullies, how come there is no reassurance in your article that the 9 folks who signed up for the city to stop dumping sewage in their yards will be physically and otherwise safe from said bullies in power? I care about that too. Why don't you give a name for the sheriff and mayor? Are you afraid? The black folks who signed up seen I me to be showing courage and trust, how exactly are you honoring that besides legal paperwork & discussion with authorities? Please tell me. I would very much appreciate learning. Thank you.

A simple Google search can reveal this info. According to the Georgia Municipal Association, the Mayor is James Rhodes and the Police Chief is Cody Beecher. A sheriff is not listed. Contact names and numbers are here: Do your best!

There was no deliberate reason not to mention names, although I think by not doing so it puts the onus on the entire white community rather than a couple of over the top officials. And by the way, the two female attorneys went back to Rochelle, anticipating harassment or even physical confrontation.They showed some real sand. The residents truly are courageous for stepping up. We are monitoring the situation and will take swift action if necessary.The named residents so far are not indicating they are being retaliated against. Terry Winckler

EarthJustice? You guys should change your name to
EarthJustice Mother:/-$&?!
There should be a long list of recent graduates applying for an internship.
Keep up the great work and find more ways to let people know what you do
Many of us didn't know until we run across one of your news articles.

When I taught in Charles City County, Virginia, I'm pretty sure I saw trucks with pipes coming out dumping who-knows-what directly into streams. I am actually sure that New York paid Virginia to take toxic wastes off their hands (probably still does). Hmmm.

I live in Chesterfield County,Virginia and am working a seasonal job in Charles City County, Virginia. So I'm interested in your comment about trucks with pipes dumping into streams in Charles City County. Would you like to state which roads/streams, and I'll "keep a lookout"...take photos if I see dumping, etc? Sounds like it's not legal, or why would they be sneaky about it. And, BTW, yes New York does pay private Virginia individuals to accept waste. It's a money-maker for Virginia landowners. The landowners cry "Private Property Rights!!"....that they can accept waste dumps on their land to make money. But what about toxic spills damaging the environment and endangering everyone else? Chesterfield residents fighting one of these proposed dumps right now.
Thanks for the information.
JL Horn

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