Mt. Pleasant sues sewage-lagoon firm

Source: http://www.columbiadailyherald.com
By: Chris Graham

Officials have sued the engineering company tapped to design and oversee construction of the city’s multi-million dollar lagoon system.

The lawsuit filed in Maury County Circuit Court April 6 alleges engineers with Nashville-based James C. Hailey & Co. misrepresented the financial feasibility of a wastewater lagoon system to secure a contract with the city to build it. It also alleges the engineering company breached its contract with the city and was professionally negligent.

Now city officials are seeking $10 million in damages from the engineering company.

James C. Hailey & Co. was hired in 1996 by Mt. Pleasant after city officials began discussing the possibility of making improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, according to the court document.

In 2002, Neil Westerman, an engineer for James C. Hailey & Co., recommended the city build a sewer lagoon and spray irrigation system using former phosphate mining ponds as a cheaper alternative to overhauling the town’s outdated wastewater treatment plant, according to the court document. Five years later, ground was broken on the lagoon project.

The lawsuit claims Westerman told city commissioners the lagoon system and spray fields would handle the town’s raw sewage and effectively replace the treatment plant but failed to advise city officials of any potential problems.

“… the Board of Commissioners was not advised of risks associated with the use of former phosphate settling ponds for the lagoons or risks associated with the site or the spray fields in particular,” the court document states.

The lawsuit claims the engineering firm also misrepresented the overall cost of the lagoon project as well as how much wastewater the lagoons would be able to hold.

James C. Hailey & Co. put an initial price tag on the project at $4.7 million in 2003 and estimated the lagoon and spray fields would be able to treat 1.5 million gallons of wastewater per day, according to the lawsuit. The firm had estimated it would cost $7.5 million to make repairs to the existing wastewater treatment plant.

But by 2007, the project’s cost had ballooned to $8 million and the state only approved .94 million gallons of wastewater per day to be sent through the system — about a 40 percent reduction in the treatment capacity for the lagoons.

The lawsuit also claims the engineering firm breached its contract when it conducted minimal soil tests and failed to perform routine inspections to ensure the project was being completed on time.

Enviroworks, one of the main contractors hired to complete the project, was fired in 2010 after failing to fully complete its work and falling more than a year behind schedule.

Last year, inspectors with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation noted several leaks in the base of the city’s two earthen lagoons and deemed some of the spray fields to be draining liquid waste into a nearby creek. Engineers estimate 200 million gallons of diluted wastewater seep through the bottom of the lagoons each year.

Following the inspection by TDEC, the state and city entered into an agreement, requiring repairs to the wastewater system be complete by 2012. Additional repairs to comply with the state order could cost the city $5-8 million.

Last month, city officials requested the state provide $10 million as the municipality tries to fix its wastewater problems. City Manager Steve Huffer said the city is keeping all of its options open, one of which could be abandoning the lagoon system altogether.

Westerman declined comment Monday.

A court date has not been set.

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