Dixie Utilities rating boosted by Utility Authority ownership

Published 1:07 am Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dixie Utilities was in need of repairs when the Utility Authority took it over about a year ago, earning a very low Health Department rating of 0.7 out of a possible 5.

A recent inspection by the Health Department has reflected that the repair work conducted on the aging water system by the Pearl River County Utility Authority has improved the system’s quality. At the Utility Authority’s board meeting on Thursday in Picayune, Southwest Water representative Mike Switzer said the Health Department has conducted recent tests, one earlier this year and another about two weeks ago. In the test conducted earlier this year, the water system earned a score of 2 out of 5. Two weeks ago the Health Department gave the system a 4 out of 5.

Utility Authority Engineer Brooks Wallace estimates the system should be able to earn a 5 out of 5 by the time the next inspection comes around since the system’s new tanks and the well on Mississippi Highway 43 North will be online. The only sewer system in that certificated area, located in Westchester, will be taken off line soon and all sewage from that subdivision will be rerouted to the old Picayune Wastewater Treatment plant by the end of January. That, and all sewage in the city of Picayune, later will be routed to the new wastewater treatment plant off Neal Road when it comes online next year.

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The well being constructed on Miss. 43 N. will provide water to all the Dixie Utilities certificated area and be able to sell water to the City of Picayune. Water main pipes currently line roads in that area, including a large stockpile behind the old Paul’s Pastry building, Wallace said.

Utility Authority personnel had to conduct emergency repairs to a sewage line on Sycamore Road near the on ramp of Interstate 59 earlier in the week due to an inundation of rain and a broken sewage line. Switzer told the board that in 24 hours time the system had to absorb about eight inches of rain.

“It was just too much water to handle at one time,” Switzer said.

Another problem with the line was that it was full of sediment due to a break in the line that is estimated to be as old as the power pole that broke it. Wallace said the power pole has 1994 stamped on it and was inadvertently installed on top of the sewer line. The auger that installed it broke the top of the line. An emergency repair has the line working again but a bid was accepted Thursday by the board to completely repair the line. The lowest bid was accepted from Graham Development for about $16,000. The whole section of the broken line will be replaced within the next week.

The board also decided to add the Progress Water System, which is currently under Central Water, to its catalog of water systems. Center Water Engineer Jacob Smith said the water service provider has been considering asking the Utility Authority Board to take over the system for about a year because their capacity is almost exhausted. That system’s Health Department rating is a 5 of 5.

The system, located outside of Poplarville, has 155 customers but can support only 157. With the ability to add only two more residential customers, the system needs a new well or access to more water. Smith said the Center Water board was not looking for a direct answer from the Utility Authority but wanted to know what direction to take. If the Utility Authority declined to take the system, then the water association would have to come up with a way to build a new well or find a way to purchase wholesale water either from Poplarville or the Utility Authority. A new well would cost between $300,000 and $350,000 and to bore under the Interstate to provide wholesale water from the Utility Authority would cost between $50,000 and $60,000. No matter what the decision, Progress Water customers most likely will see a rate increase.

Smith said the Center Water board did have a stipulation, that the Utility Authority pay for the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system that was recently installed. Wallace said the system monitors the water system for chlorine levels and the status of the water well and storage tank.

Utility Authority board members were asked for their opinions on what they should do. Each one expressed concerns about taking on the system, such as finding unknown debts or major problems with the system at a later date, as they have with Dixie Utilities. Wallace assured the board that it is in good condition and that it can be operated as is, but did suggest installing new water meters with radio transmitters.

After some discussion, the board voted to accept the system and pay for the SCADA system. Board attorney Jeff Holliman said it will take time to transfer the system into Utility Authority ownership.

Later in the meeting the board went into executive session to discuss a personnel matter and pending litigation. After the executive session, the board hired Cliff Diamond to handle any duties the board may need in order to conduct their day to day duties, board president Steve Lawler said. The pending litigation dealt with one of the Utility Authority’s contractors working outside the organization’s right of way near a home in Poplarville. The landowner alleges vegetative debris was disturbed during the work and would like the situation rectified. Lawler said the board took no action on the matter other than to ask Holliman to speak to the landowner and attempt to come a beneficial agreement for both parties.

The next meeting of the Utility Authority board will be Jan 21, at 2 p.m. at the Poplarville city hall.