Groundworx attorney to council: "We're on a very short fuse."

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg's wastewater treatment project continues to move forward even though the city is stalling on financing the project.

"I would say, realistically, we're on a very short fuse now, because Groundworx construction schedule requires that we get under way this summer," said Groundworx attorney Andy Taggart. "In fact, the MDEQ consent decree requires that the project be done by 2017, which means we need to get underway."

The project will cost just over 141 million dollars, but the city has not selected a method in which that will be paid. First, sewer rates were approved to be raised but later vetoed by the mayor, and then an unsuccessful attempt was made to set a one percent sales tax increase. Groundworx continues to move forward with its project timeline, but Taggart said Hattiesburg's lack of action may call for a decision in court.

"I don't like to threaten litigation, but there's a very significant investment that's already been made by Groundworx," said Taggart. "The city does have a contractual obligation to which it is entered into… Worst case scenario, the city will have to be asked to come join us in court for a judge to make a determination about what the city's obligations are."

Groundworx said Monday they are ready to break ground for the land application system in the next 45 to 60 days.

"Once Groundworx received the commitment from the city that the city was going to enter into this contract, Groundworx has been blowing and going to meet its obligations and will continue to do so and is going to be about the business of providing extraordinary, high quality, state of the art wastewater treatment by 2017," said Taggart.

But despite their moving forward, Councilwoman Deborah Delgado continues to bring in folks with other plans for how to dispose of the waste water. A returning guest of Delgado's is Stephen Mitchell, who used to work on the city's lagoons. Mitchell's plan is to essentially update the system already in place, which he said will cost no more than ten million dollars. However, engineer Nathan Husman of Neel-Schaffer said that's not going to work for the size of Hattiesburg's lagoon.

"You just do not have the capability that we feel comfortable with putting our reputation on the line that would secure and protect the city of Hattiesburg in the future," said Husman.

Any work that Groundworx conducts at this time is done at their own risk, according to MDEQ. This comes after an evidentiary hearing was requested to review the validity of the Groundworx permit. That hearing is set for July 15.

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