Environmental group goes to court over sewage discharges

HATTIESBURG — The Gulf Restoration Network has asked a federal judge to hold the City of Hattiesburg liable under the Clean Water Act for releasing improperly treated sewage into the Leaf and Bouie rivers.

The Hattiesburg American reports that the motion was filed in federal court Jan. 7, two days before the city entered into a 30-year contract with a company to take over the dispersal of treated wastewater.

Groundworx, LLC is to modify Hattiesburg’s sewage lagoons and stop the discharge of wastewater into the Leaf River. The partially treated wastewater would be piped and sprayed over about 10,000 acres of land in Forrest and Lamar counties.

“This was something that we were going to have to do anyway because the regulations are changing, what we can put in the river, the limits are changing,” City Council President Kim Bradley said.

“We’re not going to do the conventional, cookie-cutter way like everybody else, treat it up and dump it in the river. We’re going to take it and create a really unique irrigation system. We’re going to grow trees, and we’re going to grow grass, and we’re going to do the green thing.”

The GRN’s motion for summary judgment asks U.S. District Judge Kenneth Starrett to find the city liable for 5,464 days in violation of the permissible levels of sewage allowed in the discharge permits, said Andrew Whitehurst, GRN’s water policy director.

The GRN sued the city in March 2012.

“The city’s own records clearly show thousands of violations of pollution standards, including for fecal coliform bacteria, biological oxygen demand and total supplemental solids,” Whitehurst said. “Local communities are tired of dealing with the foul air from these sewage treatment facilities and the pollution in the Bouie and Leaf rivers.

“Ultimately, the city’s mismanagement of its sewage affects downstream communities, as pollution from the city flows from these rivers into the Pascagoula and out to the Mississippi Sound.”

The city was cited by the MDEQ for having unacceptable levels of effluent in the discharge, and was ordered to have designs for an upgraded system in place by October 2014, with a new system up and running by 2017. That led to the city’s hiring of Groundworx LLC.

Good, Whitehurst said, but added that GRN still intends to ask that the suit be heard.

“I’m sure that the judge will take into account anything the city has done or is doing,” Whitehurst said. “I guess you think of (the motion) as a prod to move things along.”

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