A public meeting on the Groundworx LLC wastewater land application permit was held at the Hattiesburg train depot on the evening of Tuesday February 25th. Around 85 people attended to hear MDEQ staff describe the draft permit for a new sewage treatment system that features no discharge to streams or rivers. Thirty people made verbal comments to the court reporter in attendance. I delivered GRN’s comments which were written for us by Tulane Environmental Law Clinic attorneys. Our comments focused on the need for more monitoring of soil suitability and water quality in both surface and ground water, the need for defining buffer zones around spray sites to protect public health, the lack of any operational procedures or operator qualifications in the permit, and the need for compliance with local floodplain ordinances. These deficiencies are all addressable before a final permit is presented to the MDEQ permit board.
The land application treatment system proposes that waste water be pre-treated and then sprayed onto 3,000 acres of pine forest and pastureland in three semi-rural areas outside Hattiesburg. The system’s success depends largely on soil absorption properties and the rate at which plants utilize nitrogen and phosphorous (metabolized waste) compounds from the sprayed water. Comments on the permit covered a wide range of topics. Some were relevant to the permit itself, but a majority of comments revealed dismay in the city’s choice and handling of the long term contract with Groundworx LLC, the system operator. Plus, water utility rates will rise sharply in Hattiesburg to pay for the system.
The meeting marked the end of the comment period and the permit should be presented to the MDEQ permit board at its March or April meeting. At the close of my remarks I emphasized that the meeting, the public notice period and the ability to make comments are part of due process. We were there talking about sewage bills, city contracts and the details of waste water spray fields only because of our form of government. We sometimes need a reminder of that good fortune.
Andrew Whitehurst is Water Policy Director at GRN.