Engineer says Hattiesburg has not chosen best option for waste water facility

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A consulting engineer who spoke to concerned citizens Thursday night claims the city of Hattiesburg is preparing to pay millions of dollars more than needed to fix the city's waste water woes.

Stephen Mitchell is an engineer who works on waste water plants for municipalities across the country. He says the best option for Hattiesburg is to fix the current lagoon system, which would only cost approximately ten million dollars.

"An estimate on renovations to the lagoon could easily be finished within a year to get the lagoon where it could meet any discharge permit limits," said Mitchell.

The city currently faces a 140 million dollar project with the land application system, which was approved by a 4-1 vote earlier this year.

"It's not necessarily bad," said Mitchell, "but it's being monitored more closely by EPA throughout the country."

Mitchell's proposal to update the aerators, baffles and other operations at the current lagoon is something that needs to happen, according to councilman Carter Carroll. But Carroll said it is not the solution that will fix the waste water issue forever.

"What he [Mitchell] was speaking about is a short term clean up of the lagoons, which I agree with, but I do not know if this is a long term solution," said Carroll. "We're still going to need something to be able to meet our requirements for getting in the river in 2017."

The EPA, under an agreed order with MDEQ, requires the city to reduce the level of ammonium nitrates that is discharged into the river. Carroll believes these limits will only strengthen as time passes, which is why the council chose the land application system.

According to Mitchell, replacing aerators and baffles, in combination with USA Yeast reducing the load they put into the lagoon, would fix the issue and the water dumped into the river would meet necessary levels. However, Mitchell admitted in Thursday night's meeting that he has never read the permit for the city of Hattiesburg.

Mitchell says when USA Yeast has their evaporation system in place this summer, the loading of the plant's discharge will be reduced by 80 percent, which will not only help with the lagoon's aeration but also the odor.

Carroll said the city has been told by multiple engineers that a polishing system, priced around 70 million dollars, would be needed to treat the water, no matter where it was sent from the lagoon. Mitchell disagrees and said the updates to the lagoon would be enough.

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