Purchase of land moves treatment plant construction forward

Published 11:33 pm Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Construction of Picayune’s new waste water treatment plant is moving forward after the purchase of more than 20 acres by the Pearl River County Utility Authority.

The new system will help the city’s current aging system and allow for increased growth in the city, as the old system is struggling to keep up.

The Utility Authority took control of the city’s waste water services last year under the stipulation that the city would sell the Utility Authority about 20 acres of city property behind city hall in order to build a new plant, said Utility Authority board president Steve Lawler.

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City Council member Jerry Bounds said the new plant is necessary for the city to grow.

When the city council and the Utility Authority went to make the deal for the sale of land at a recent council meeting earlier this month, council members were displeased with the appraisal the board provided, Lawler said. With time running short and the city delaying in getting their own appraisal, Lawler said he presented the council with an ultimatum, sell them the land or the city could take back their failing sewer system and pay back the $250,000 the board put into it.

“If they had not gone forward, the City of Picayune would be in terribly bad shape,” Lawler said.

When the city failed to get its own appraisal, it was forced to use the appraisal provided by the Utility Authority, Bounds said. About three years ago the city could have taken advantage of a USDA grant to build its own facility, but it required the city to put up 40 percent of the cost. Bounds said the city could not afford to put up 40 percent of a $20 million plant.

After three hours of debate at the recent council meeting, council members Leavern Guy and Donald Parker voted against the matter. With a 4 to 2 vote in favor of selling the land, the city sold it to the Utility Authority for $70,000. The appraisal states the Utility Authority paid about $3,000 an acre for the 23.23 acres. Lawler said the board asked the council to donate the land, but the council declined.

City council minutes state that Parker and Guy expressed concerns about the proximity of the plant to neighboring residential areas and possible health hazards.

Guy said his reservations dealt with the potential for pollutants affecting those around the plant. He said he understands the need for a new treatment plant, but does not agree with the location, which would use an access road from Neal Road. When the motion was initially made, Guy said he asked that special attention be given by the Utility Authority to protect the surrounding community. Guy made up his mind to vote against it, when that was not included in the motion, he said.

Utility Authority Engineer Brooks Wallace said there is no need for concern by the public concerning the new plant since it will not be using chemicals to treat the waste water. Instead, oxygen will be injected into the water, promoting micro-organisms to feed on bacteria in the waste water. Instead of using chlorine and sulfur dioxide to clean the water, it will be treated with ultraviolet light much like a tanning bed, which will kill the micro organisms and bacteria. Wallace said the proposed plant will be a state-of-the-art, first-class facility.

Treated water will be piped into the Hobolochitto creek behind city hall, Wallace said.

The new plant also meets Department of Environmental Quality standards by keeping a buffer zone in excess of the minimum of at least 100 feet of buffer required for such a facility. Wallace said Picayune’s facility will have a buffer of several hundred feet. Also, any vegetation currently on the site will remain to shield public view of the plant.

Picayune’s new waste water treatment facility will be capable of treating about 2.4 million gallons of waste water per day, Wallace said. It will be computer controlled and monitored, he said.

Having the Utility Authority take over the city’s waste water treatment is a blessing, Bounds said. The new plant will benefit not only the residents of the city but also the new hospital planned for construction on U.S. Highway 11.

In the next two to three weeks the road from Neal Road into the site will begin being cut. Construction of the new plant and the necessary infrastructure will take about a year and a half after construction begins sometime in April of this year, Wallace said. The total cost of the project will be $20.5 million, which includes $4.6 million to build transmission lines and pump stations and $16.3 million for the treatment plant.