- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - After more than a year of debate and lawsuits, Hattiesburg officials have decided to modernize its wastewater treatment by spreading treated sewage on land.

The City Council voted 4-1 Friday to choose land application, expected to cost up to $120 million. The Hattiesburg American reports (http://hatne.ws/1PdunvK ) the city plans to keep treating wastewater in current sewage lagoons and then spread effluent on land nearby.

City Council President Kim Bradley said that spreading effluent on land means the city will no longer need federal permits to discharge into rivers.

“We don’t have to deal with the federal government anymore,” City Council President Kim Bradley said. “The cost is much less (than mechanical), and we don’t have to close the current lagoons - that would cost an additional $40 million.”

The vote will halt a $1,500-a-day fine levied by a federal judge after Hattiesburg missed a Sept. 1 deadline to submit plans to stop dumping improperly treated sewage into the Leaf and Bouie rivers. The Gulf Restoration Network sued, complaining Hattiesburg hadn’t fixed problems despite 20 years of violations.

In 2014, the city had contracted with Hattiesburg-based Groundworx LLC to design, build and operate a land application system.

But the deal disintegrated. Mayor Johnny DuPree vetoed a proposed sewer rate hike that would have paid for it, and then the contract was ruled unconstitutional in Forrest County Chancery Court. That decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Councilwoman Deborah Delgado, who voted against the plan, says it could have ruinous financial and environmental consequences.

During the meeting, she read a statement saying the decision “represented a culmination of coordinated efforts on the part of the majority of the City Council and Groundworx to force this sewer treatment process upon the citizens of Hattiesburg and surrounding communities, regardless of the financial and environmental burdens to be borne by tax-paying residents in years to come.”

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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