Westchester waste water plant apparently not treating sewage

Published 1:32 am Sunday, December 9, 2007

A faulty waste water treatment plant in Westchester Subdivision is failing to properly treat waste water that is eventually fed into Hobolochitto Creek.
A tour of the plant by the Picayune Item showed a waste water treatment plant in severe disrepair. Limbs, apparently torn from trees by Hurricane Katrina, lie in or on the treatment facility. The odor of sewage is strong, both from the water coming into the plant and from water leaving the plant. A stream of pungent water leaves the plant and heads straight for Hobolochitto Creek.
After Katrina, the City of Picayune came in to receivership of the sewer plant. The previous owner, Nick Smith, left the treatment facility, and the rest of the certificated area formerly known as Dixie Utilities, in disrepair after the storm prompting the state to take that action. When the Public Service Commission was unable to contact Smith, it issued a receivership order of Dixie Utilities to Bell Utilities, according to a press release from the Public Service Commission in December of 2005.
Bell Utilities declined receivership of Dixie Utilities sending the utility back to the state. The Public Service Commission then issued receivership of Dixie Utilities to the City of Picayune, City Manager Ed Pinero Jr. said.
“If this were a child, I guess we would be like foster parents,” said Public Works Director Chad Frierson.
“We did not create the issue, but the state has put us in a position where we are to maintain a working infrastructure,” Pinero said.
Public Service Commissioner Leonard Bentz said it has been the practice to issue receivership of a failing system to another body for at least the past seven years, if not longer.
The city receives no property taxes from customers of Dixie Utilities, including the Westchester Subdivision, since they lie outside of the city limits. However, the city has spent about $300,000 on renovations to all of Dixie Utilities. It appears little if any of that money was spent on the failing Westchester waste water treatment system. The lack of electricity keeps the aerators from operating an treating the waste water. Frierson said electricity to Westchester’s system was most likely lost during Hurricane Katrina and never restored.
The only treatment the waste water in Westchester receives is in the form of chlorine tablets, which is more than was done before the city received it, Frierson said. The chlorine kills the fecal content in the waste water, he said.
Tests of the water coming out of the system are not conducted so untested waste water heads straight for Hobolochitto Creek. Picayune Treatment Plant Superintendent Jimmy Seal said no tests are being conducted since the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has not granted them a Daily Monitor Report permit. A DMR report tests for chlorine levels and fecal levels, among other compounds, and is turned in to DEQ, Seal said.
The drinking water for all of Dixie Utilities is tested and passes those tests every month, Frierson said.
Part of the agreement for Picayune to come under receivership of the failing system was that there would be grants to help the city make repairs, Pinero said. Those grants have yet to be granted, in spite of the city’s repeated requests and applications.
“Even though it was promised during the receivership period,” Pinero said.
“If legally we can, I’ll be the first to help them get some money. Ed knows he can call me any time he needs me,” Bentz said.
However, nearly two years after the storm, improperly treated sewage is being sent to Hobolochitto Creek from the plant.
“Obviously we don’t want raw sewage dumped in the creek,” Bentz said.
An estimated cost to rehabilitate all of what used to be Dixie Utilities is about $13 million according to an evaluation by Hartman Engineering, Pinero said.
One option the city has is to relinquish the Dixie Utilities certificated area to the Pearl River County Utility Authority as part of the new waste water treatment plant agreement. However, the option to just relinquish Dixie Utilities to the Utility Authority has not been discussed, Pinero said.
The best way to fix Westchester’s problem is to install a new plant or divert that waste to another waste water treatment facility, Frierson said.
“We’ve looked at both options and they’re expensive,” he said.

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