The City of Hattiesburg is heading to federal court to challenge its current agreement with Gulf Restoration Network and the treatment levels it sets for wastewater.
The Hattiesburg City Council vote 4-1 at its meeting Tuesday to "authorize the city's attorneys to take all action necessary to obtain relief from or with respect to the consent judgment in Gulf Restoration Network v. City of Hattiesburg."
Keith Turner, attorney with Watkins & Eager who's representing the city, said the current consent judgment requires the city's wastewater to be treated at such a high level it essentially forces the city to build a mechanical treatment plant.
"The city has shifted its direction in trying to have the lagoons continue to operate to save dollars and be able to continue on with that system without having to spend $150 million on alternatives," Turner said. "As part of that, there's a consent judgment from the federal court that's controlling what the city does. We have attempted to go back to Gulf Restoration Network, GRN, and renegotiate that with them because there's terms in that agreement that force the city to have to use mechanical plants. It's not necessary at this point, so the goal basically was 'OK let's renegotiate the term of this to whatever the (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality) require of us, whatever the legal requirements through DEQ, and satisfy them. That's what we're trying to do.' Unfortunately GRN is uncooperative and didn't want to negotiate those terms. They wanted to leave it as it was."
Now, a federal judge will decide if the city's consent judgment will be amended or thrown out.
"Proceed with going back to court to really protect the city's interests," Turner said. "That's what the goal is here - not to spend money that's not necessary, to allow us to just comply with the existing permit as the DEQ has written it. The DEQ has said on many occasions, publicly I believe, that they don't dictate to the entities on what type of system you have to build. Well, this consent judgment, because of the language that's in there, essentially is doing that. It's forcing us to have to do a mechanical plant, and that's the part that GRN is refusing to be flexible or modify."
Turner said no court date is set yet, but he expects to be in court in the next several weeks.