A stinky mess; Hattiesburg and Petal to sue each other

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The city of Petal and the city of Hattiesburg are in a stinky situation. Thirty years ago, Petal and Hattiesburg entered into an agreement where Hattiesburg would treat Petal's waste water as part of a flood relief partnership.

Now, with rates increasing, Petal's water bill is about to double, and Petal Mayor Hal Marx is not having it.

For decades, Petal has paid Hattiesburg $0.66 per thousand gallons for treating its wastewater. It's been that way since the 1980s. That equated to Petal paying about $25,000 a month to Hattiesburg, but now they're being asked to fork over around $200,000 a month.

"The City of Hattiesburg has decided to end that partnership, and treat us as if we were a customer who came hat in hand begging for help, which is not the case at all," said Petal Mayor Hal Marx.

The increase to the city of Petal would translate into households paying as much as $80-$85 a month for sewer service.

Marx said there's new expensive infrastructure in the works because of the way Hattiesburg mismanaged USA Yeast's untreated wastewater's going into the south lagoon. The clean up cost for over 20 tons of sludge will range between $800,000 to $1.2 million for Hattiesburg.

"We feel like they're trying to balance their budget on our backs and that's just not fair"

Marx said Petal initiated a lawsuit, but Hattiesburg agreed they'd first make a rate study to work something out.

"We've never heard back from them, all we hear is that they file a lawsuit, so we filed our lawsuit"

Hattiesburg City Councilman Kim Bradley has a different perspective.

"There was no agreement. That's a lie."  He wants Petal to pay up.

"We have an ordinance in the City of Hattiesburg that says if you don't live in Hattiesburg, you pay double what a citizen in Hattiesburg pays."

Bradley says one reason they're filing suit is because Petal was delinquent on last month's $200,000 bill. Marx doesn't deny not paying, in fact, he says his city has refused to pay since last October.

"We've hired and attorney and they've hired an attorney"

Petal officials are filing suit, because they're being asked to pay double the amount Hattiesburg residents pay, but they contend that only 9% of the lagoon is filled with Petal's wastewater.

Marx argues, "Ours is not something that is becoming a burden to the city of Hattiesburg, but we feel like they're trying to put the burden on us."

Meanwhile, Petal households are not the only ones that will see a sewage rate increase. Tuesday, the Hattiesburg City Council voted to increase Hattiesburg's rates by 40% over the next four years. The rate increase will start on the October 1.

Copyright 2013 WDAM. All rights reserved.