City meets with residents in first of five meetings to discuss need for a new sewage plant

Published 7:56 pm Friday, December 7, 2007

Those attending the City of Picayune’s public meeting learned that there are two ways to provide the the city with a new sewage plant that it needs and one way would essentially double the city’s tax rate.

The first of five meetings on the need for a new waste water treatment plant gave residents a chance to learn about a possible agreement between the city and the Pearl River County Utility Authority for the plant.

There are two ways to go about building the plant, attendees learned. The first involves allowing the Utility Authority build a new treatment plant, and possibly assume responsibility of the existing plant, which would cost city taxpayers little to nothing. The second route would involve the city making a $30 million bond issue, which would more than double current millage rate for residents, said City Manager Ed Pinero Jr. The millage rate now is 25.5 mills, he said.

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Picayune’s push to build a new plant came when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Quality mandated the city take action on it’s overloaded waste water treatment system by 2010, Pinero said.

The agreement involves about $28 million was given to the Utility Authority to improve waste water services in Picayune. If the city decides to enter an agreement with the Utility Authority, that money would be used for the new plant, Pinero said. Since the money is a grant, the cost of the new facility would not financially affect city or its taxpayers. However, there is concern about increased sewer bills if the city does take that route.

If the city decides to go it alone, then that $30 million bond will increase the current millage of 25.5 by an additional 27 mills to about 53 mills, Pinero said. The price to the citizens would be about $2 million a year, Pinero said.

“Our taxes would go up twice as much,” Kenneth Fortenberry said in agreement.

Currently, if the city decided to enter the Utility Authority agreement, there are two possible locations for the new plant. The first would be on the 200 acres that house Picayune’s new city hall, and the second would be on the north side of the Hobolochitto creek.

Picayune’s existing water treatment plant uses an anaerobic process to treat waste water while the new proposed plant under the Utility Authority would be a mechanical plant. Picayune’s anaerobic plant treats 1.25 million gallons of waste water a day, not including rainfall, said Roger Coldwell with Hartman Engineering.

“During a rain event, our system is typically overloaded,” Pinero said.

The proposed new plant would be capable of treating 1.6 million gallons of waste water, effectively reducing the burden of the current plant, Coldwell said. If the agreement was entered into, both plants would operate in conjunction and be able to treat 2.8 million gallons of waste water a day.

The Superfund Site, created by an old wood treatment plant polluting the soil, restricts the city from upgrading the current plant to handle more waste water, Pinero said.

Increased sewer bills are a concern. Discussions with the Utility Authority have not provided any solid numbers on sewer bills if the city decides to partner with them, so there is no concrete information to share on the subject, Pinero said. When the topic was mentioned at the meeting several people in the audience expressed concern about the possibility of increased rates.

“That has been, probably, our biggest area of contention,” Pinero said.

If an agreement is reached between the city and the Utility Authority, then there is the option to allow them to take over ownership and maintenance of the city’s existing plant.

Council member Leavern Guy said the concern with this agreement is not whether the Utility Authority will do a good job, but rather the effect this agreement could have on the citizens.

Some questions that came from the audience included how the current sewer infrastructure would be updated. Guy said that the city recently received a grant for $2.5 million to conduct upgrades, which have been applied. Any further upgrades would come from the utility bills citizens pay, Pinero said.

“I think it’s wonderful that ya’ll had the meeting so we could get some ideas,” Marilyn Roberson said.

Four more meetings will take place next week from Monday through Thursday so all citizens will have the opportunity to pose questions and receive information about the possible agreement. All meetings will feature a different council member, will take place at the council chambers in city hall and begin at 6 p.m. While the focus of each meeting is on a particular district, citizens are invited to attend any meeting they wish.