The City Council voted 6-3 on Tuesday to hire an Atlanta attorney to help deal with the EPA, which is expected to possibly hit the city with sanctions related to water quality shortcomings.
City Attorney Mike McMahan said attorney Adam Sowatzka of the firm of King & Spalding projected the costs at $100,000 through Sept. 1.
Attorney McMahan said the EPA has thus far only made a "request for facts," but he said, "These things almost always end up as consent decrees."
The city recently tripled water quality fees after a critical June 22 state report that found 57 violations of the current permit and said the city stormwater program was woefully underfunded.
Mayor Ron Littlefield said attorney Sowatzka formerly worked for the EPA and "knows the ins and outs of the system."
He said Chattanooga "has many fine environmental attorneys," but none with the experience and breadth of knowledge about dealing with the federal environmental agency that has levied huge non-compliance fines against some cities, including Knoxville.
Councilwoman Carol Berz said she had a problem with Chattanooga always going outside for experts.
She also said the contract with King and Spalding "is a little open-ended. It does feel like a blank check."
Attorney McMahan said the billings will be reviewed monthly and the city can end the work if it is not satisfied.
Councilman Peter Murphy said he had concerns for the country if the main factor in such issues "is who you know."
But Councilman Manny Rico retorted, "There's an old saying: A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge. It does matter."
Voting in favor were council members Rico, Jack Benson, Sally Robinson, Deborah Scott, Pam Ladd and Andrae McGary. Opposed were council members Berz, Murphy and Russell Gilbert.
Attorney Sowatzka has been doing some work without charge for the city and he spoke at a water quality hearing held by the City Council called after a number of citizens and business owners expressed dismay and outrage about the tripled fee.
Here is the background on attorney Sowatzka from the firm's website:
Adam Sowatzka is a counsel on King & Spalding’s Tort & Environmental Practice Group. Mr. Sowatzka routinely advises clients regarding the environmental risks and liabilities associated with regulatory compliance, corporate transactions, and sustainable development. He has significant experience in assisting clients in the defense of administrative, civil, and criminal proceedings involving permitting and environmental enforcement matters at the federal and state levels. Prior to entering private practice, he was an Associate Regional Counsel with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeastern Regional Office and Vice President and General Counsel of a manufacturing and services subsidiary of Axel Johnson, Inc.
Recent Speaking Engagements
“New Developments in Wetlands Enforcement,” Georgia Chamber of Commerce 3rd Annual Environmental Symposium, August 2008.
“Georgia’s Comprehensive State Water Plan,” Georgia Bar Association's Environmental Law Summer Seminar, August 2008.
“Storm Water Compliance and Enforcement Trends,” Southeast Storm Water Association Annual Conference, October 2007.
"Sorting through the Fragments of the Rapanos Decision on Wetlands Jurisdiction," Georgia Bar Association's Environmental Law Summer Seminar, July 2007.
"Is Dirt Cheap? Regulation, Enforcement, and Litigation on the Construction Stormwater Permit," Georgia Bar Association's Environmental Law Summer Seminar, July 2006.
“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Legal Update,” US EPA Region 4 Wet Weather Issues Workshop, Atlanta, Georgia, March 2006.
“Mediating Environmental Disputes,” American Bar Association Key Environmental Issues in U.S. EPA Region 4 – Hot Topics and Recent Developments Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, April 2005.
Georgia State Bar–Environmental Law Section (Secretary 2008, Treasurer 2007
American Health Lawyers Association
American Bar Association–Environment, Energy, and Resources Section
Atlanta Bar Association
Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network, Volunteer
J.D., cum laude
Vermont Law School
M.S.E.L., magna cum laude
Vermont Law School
B.S., cum laude
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Admitted to Practice
Alabama Middle District Court
Alabama Northern District Court
Supreme Court of Alabama
Wisconsin Supreme Court