Effluent dumping into the Leaf River from one of Hattiesburg's existing sewage treatment facilities. The City of Hattiesburg, Mississippi has signed a contract with Groundworx LLC to take over the city’s sewage treatment. The Hattiesburg sewage lagoons have been causing ongoing problems with odor and pollution, and while taking care of this problem is long overdue, it is not certain that the system Groundworx intends to implement will solve the problem.
The land application system is said to be modeled after one built in Dalton, Georgia to treat that city’s wastewater. The 3000 acres of sprayer arrays on forest and grassland necessary to dispose of Hattiesburg’s waste water will be close to the square area of Dalton’s land treatment operation. Dalton’s is the largest land application system in Georgia and it is not without environmental problems.
Dr. Bennett York, the land developer behind Groundworx, has used spray fields and land application before to treat wastewater produced by his subdivisions in Lamar County, on the sprawling west side of Hattiesburg. Dr. York’s Big Bay Lake and Bellegrass residential developments both use spray fields and land application, and not without problems. In 2010, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality cited a number of permit violations at Bellegrass, including overflows of sewage lagoons to wetlands along Black Creek – one of the state’s best recreational streams. MDEQ began an enforcement action that resulted in a fine and an agreed order imposed by the state’s Commission on Environmental Quality. Groundworx has 150 times more acres of sprayfields than Bellegrass subdivision.
There are many questions about whether this company can successfully scale-up from a subdivision system to a much larger land application system for a city. There are also many questions of cost, financing, infrastructure needs and risk to the city of Hattiesburg as it enters a 30 year contractual relationship with Groundworx.
Due to the current moratorium on the city council’s citizen’s forum, which has been in place for over 3 months, citizens of Hattiesburg have not had the opportunity to voice these concerns before the city council. However, there will be a public meeting on Feb. 25th at 7 pm sponsored by MDEQ in at the Hattiesburg Train Depot (308 Newman St., Hattiesburg 39401) will be an important opportunity for people to raise questions and concerns.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN’s Water Program Director.