Judge signs Consent Decree between Hattiesburg, EPA and MDEQ over wastewater system

Pine Belt

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – On January 20, 2021, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Keith Starrett signed a Consent Decree between the City of Hattiesburg, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) in regard to its wastewater system which was announced in Fall of 2020.

The consent decree – a 16-year improvement plan – settles a lawsuit by the EPA after seven years of negotiations, which began in September 2012 when an EPA inspection report notated unreported sanitary sewer overflows (SSO).

The judge signing the document kickstarts the plan and accompanies a list of milestones that must be completed in the 2021 calendar year.

It includes the following dates for programmatic improvements and fee schedules:

February 21, 2021

The City will pay its only civil penalty in a lump sum of $165,000 within 30 days of the signed decree. This fee covers all prior alleged environmental violations, included alleged failure to report SSOs between January 1, 2012 and September 30, 2016.

April 20, 2021

The City will submit a Sewer Overflow Response Plan (SORP) and an Emergency Response Plan. This is the first step in establishing better reporting practices in regard to the City’s programmatic improvements that began during the negotiation phase.

July 21, 2021

The City will make the first escrow payment that will fund the Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP). SEPs allow for an investment (with landowner approval) into replacing defective private sewer laterals and illicit connections from residential properties where the owners of which face financial hardship.

The total amount committed to the program is $220,800 and will go back into the community as an infrastructure investment to resolve sewer backups and illicit connections for citizens. 

October 20, 2021

The City will submit to the US EPA and MDEQ a Sanitary Sewer Evaluation/Rehabilitation Work Plan which will help modernize and streamline the city’s infrastructure, personnel and equipment. This includes an information management system program and a sewer mapping program.

It will also help develop proactive and preventative operations and maintenance practices for the wastewater collection system. This includes O&M programs for gravity sewer systems, pump stations and fats, oil and grease (FOG) controls.

This legally binding document holds Hattiesburg responsible in significantly reducing the occurrence of SSOs and improves the overall operations of its wastewater collection and treatment system.

“We are glad that this Consent Decree has been finalized and that the City of Hattiesburg can finally move forward,” said Mayor Toby Barker. “This settlement, while recognizing the mistakes of the past, also notes the progress made by the city over the past several years. We look forward to following through with an aggressive plan that will modernize both our sewer infrastructure and our operations and maintenance practices.”

The City will also comply with an aggressive schedule for the rehabilitation and remediation of the wastewater collection system through a 16-year investment in infrastructure upgrades. This includes investigation, project and budgetary planning, construction of Early Action Projects and the implementation of O&M programs throughout 32 distinct sewer basins – which have been identified as priority areas for this decree.

Compliance with the requirements of the consent decree is estimated to cost approximately $45 million, and the timeframe for completion of work is 16 years. Water and sewer projects are funded through a dedicated budget source that stems from residential and commercial water and sewer utility collections.

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