Cities seek mediation in sewer rates case

Cities seek mediation in sewer rates case

MARION COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The cities of Petal and Hattiesburg met in court Friday morning to further discuss a case regarding sewer rates.

The matter has been in and out of courtrooms since 2013 after Hattiesburg started charging Petal residents for using their sewer system. The cities are at a disagreement about how much Hattiesburg should charge Petal for using its lagoons, which has been double the rate of Hattiesburg residents.

"So far, we've not had a problem with Hattiesburg treating our waste," Petal city attorney Tom Tyner said. "The only problem has been the cost of treating our waste."

The parties met in Marion County Circuit Court under Judge Dawn Beam, who said there were still outstanding discovery items out that were needed to move forward. Many of those include depositions, and the cities have another pre-trial conference scheduled for Jan. 6.

If they do not reach a settlement by then, the case will go to trial on Feb. 1.

"We certainly feel good that both sides are going to make their best efforts to reach a resolution," Hattiesburg's counsel John Scanlon said, echoing Judge Beam's praise of the cities' willingness to work together.

The cities are consulting MDEQ as well as a former Madison County Chancery Judge to help resolve the complexities of this case. The judge was appointed to the case by Judge Beam.

"This is not a simple issue," Beam said of discerning the proper rates to install on Petal. "We do not all have the expertise to come up with a calculation as to what is an actual cost of treating waste between the cities at that facility."

Petal Mayor Hal Marx said his city was still moving forward with considering a land application system to treat and dispose of its wastewater, and the city attorney said if they move forward with that option, it would change the Petal v. Hattiesburg case.

"Our choice if we can't afford it (Hattiesburg rates) is to build our own lagoon," Tyner said, noting that would not be the city's preference.

Hattiesburg is still in litigation with several agencies regarding its wastewater system and is under strict deadlines with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency to stop sending wastewater into the rivers and find a new treatment system. Scanlon said the Hub City's additional litigation does also effect this case in some ways.