Utility Authority provides tour of facilities, update

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 18, 2018

Representatives of the Picayune City Council and House of Representatives toured Pearl River County Utility Authority facilities Thursday afternoon.

In addition to the members of the Utility Authority’s Board of Directors, Councilor Tammy Valente, Representative Stacey Wilkes and Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce Director Terry Farr got an up close look at what has been built or repaired by the agency since its formation in 2006.

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Utility Authority Executive Director Ray Scott gave the attendees a bit of background before the tour. He said that the Utility Authority was formed after Hurricane Katrina as per an order by then Governor Haley Barbour to improve water and wastewater infrastructure in the six coastal counties utilizing grant funding.

Each of the six counties took a different approach to reach that goal. In neighboring Hancock County, wastewater treatment facilities were built with the grant funding. Cities can elect to send their wastewater there to be treated, but the Hancock Utility Authority has no dealings with the lines that bring the wastewater to the plant.

In Pearl River County, that funding was used to meet the needs of the residents and quell a problem with Picayune and Poplarville’s aging systems.

In Picayune, the city was under pressure by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to address long standing issues with the city’s wastewater treatment lagoon on Airport Road. The city eventually turned over the entire sewer system to the Utility Authority, and a new wastewater treatment facility was constructed on Neal Road. Scott said that repairs were also conducted to the lagoon, which is still in use. He said half of the city’s wastewater is treated at the lagoon, and half is treated at the Neal Road facility.

The grant funding also paid to construct three elevated well tanks, one on Highway 43 North that serves former Dixie Utilities customers, one in Poplarville and another in Hillsdale. The tower on Highway 43 North is also tied into the city of Picayune’s water system in case the city needs to purchase water in emergencies.  In addition to the one built in Picayune, wastewater treatment facilities were also constructed in Millard for the county jail and in Poplarville. All three facilities are state of the art and utilize ultraviolet light as the final step in the treatment process.

Five stand-alone treatment facilities, otherwise known as lagoons, have either been turned over to or constructed by the Utility Authority. They are located in Round Rock, Tin Hill, Big Sky next to North Hill and New Arbor Lake.

The Utility Authority currently employs 15 people full time, with only Scott being part time. Those employees maintain the facilities owned by the Utility Authority across the county. Within Picayune, the Utility Authority 5,700 customers in and around the city of Picayune. Those customers are served by 59 lift stations and 90 miles of sewer line. Efforts to repair the aging sewer lines in the city are either complete or underway. Scott said the first phase focused on the oldest of the lines and invested $6 million into the repair and lining of those more than 100-year-old pipes. The first phase repaired 26 miles, of which only one mile had to be dug up, and was complete in January of last year.

A second phase began late last year and will include maintenance or repair to the remaining pipes at a cost of $6 million. Scott said they will be able to repair more of the line because modern materials were used in that part of the city because it was built more recently.