Uniontown residents hold city officials responsible for wastewater treatment problems

Uniontown residents hold city officials responsible for wastewater treatment problems

Source: http://www.selmatimesjournal.com, March 29, 2014
By: Jay Sowers

Complaints have surrounded the wastewater treatment facilities in Uniontown for the better part of a decade, and no party has yet to take responsibility for the putrid situation residents find themselves in.

Esther Calhoun, Uniontown resident and president of Black Belt Citizens for Health and Justice, said she feels a large portion of the blame falls at the feet of the city’s government, whom she feels failed to heed warnings from concerned citizens before construction began on the city’s second sanitary sprayfield.

“We already had one of these fields that wasn’t working,” Calhoun said. “It’s not about lawsuits all the time, it’s about having a clean, healthy community. If our elected officials had listened to the people, like they were voted in to do, this would have never happened. We knew from the beginning this wasn’t going to work, but we had no one to listen to us. No one at all.”

Attempts to contact Uniontown Mayor Jamaal Hunter for comment were unsuccessful Thursday and Friday.

Adam Johnston, Alliance Coordinator with the Alabama Rivers Alliance, said, if left unresolved, issues with both the old and new sprayfields could also end up hurting the city financially in the future.

“The city of Uniontown is currently at capacity with the amount of sewage they are able to take on, and if they want more jobs and more people in this community, they are going to have to get a system that holds more capacity,” Johnston said. “And so far, the design for the second spray field is not going to do that.”

Johnston said he believes the answer is a different system to treat wastewater in Uniontown instead of sprayfields.

“I wish they could get a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system that is deigned to treat sewage and then discharge it, like the majority of other treatment systems, back in to the surface water,” Johnston said.

One issue with Johnston’s vision for the project’s solution is money, which has become a main sticking point in the wastewater project in Uniontown.

In 2012, Sentell Engineering Inc. developed a $4.4 million plan to upgrade and replace much of the city’s aging sewage system. Much of that project was to be funded by a $2.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But two years later, Sentell engineer John Stevens said the company is running low on funding for the project and has started working with grant-writers to seek funding elsewhere.

“The problem is just a limited amount of money, and because it wasn’t planned to do that, we didn’t have it in our budget. And if you don’t have it in your budget, you can’t get it done unless you have extra money laying around,” Stevens said.

He said he believes officials at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management are to blame for the project’s current financial state, saying they never looked over plans Sentell submitted before they began working on the project.

“The problem was when ADEM wanted us to change parts of our design even though they had copies of our drawings for a year-and-a-half,” Stevens said. “They said, ‘We don’t really make comments on drawings.’ So we feel like if we send a drawing to somebody, there is a purpose for that, which is generally to have them review the drawings.”

Scott Hughes, spokesman for ADEM, said the group will continue to work with all of the involved parties until updates to the old sprayfield and construction of the new field are completed to ADEM’s satisfaction.

“We are just working with the city and a consulting firm to try and get this issue resolved and make sure the city of Uniontown can treat that wastewater properly when it is generated by the residents over there,” Hughes said.

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