Commission hears sewage survey plans

Published 11:22 am Thursday, October 13, 2011

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

Lowndes County is the subject of a national demonstration project on dealing with the treatment of raw sewage. And, as part of that project, a countywide house-to-house survey will begin this month to determine the areas of need for raw sewage treatment systems in Lowndes County.

Catherine C. Flowers of the Alabama Center for Federal Enterprise (ACRE) appeared before the Lowndes County Commission Monday to seek a memorandum of agreement with the County Commission, to ask that the Lowndes County Water Authority become a water and sewer authority to receive any grants that become available to address the problem and to announce the countywide house-to-house survey.

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According to Flowers, in 2002 the process began to deal with raw sewage in Lowndes County. She said an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant was awarded to create a master plan to deal with the issue in the county, but the funds were not awarded until last year.

She said the state Health Department has estimated that as much as 80 percent of Lowndes County does not have functioning sewage systems. But according to Flowers, the issue is not just raw sewage, but septic tanks more than 15 years of age are not compliant with current regulations.

With the funds from a $571,000 EPA grant, she told the County Commission that five surveyors from Lowndes County Commission districts have been hired to do a house-to-house survey of the county beginning this month. Surveyors, she said, include Ruby Rudolph, Mary McDonald, Geraldine Gamble, Antory Poole and Steven Thigpen.

Flowers said the grant is only for Lowndes County, which is being used as a model to address a problem that is present in every county in Alabama.

“We may hold the key to what the solution is for these other counties that are dealing with the same thing,” she said.

Flowers said partners in the effort to solve the raw sewage problem in Lowndes County are the state Health Department and the Community Resource Group, which will be willing to work with any new sewer authority.

She also said a governance committee will be formed including the county and municipalities and stakeholders of the county.

Flowers said she is asking water authorities in the county without a sewer component consider becoming water and sewer authorities. She stressed there is funding to address the issue of raw sewage treatment, but those funds will only be available through sewer authorities.

She asked that the county propose to the Lowndes Water Authority to become the Lowndes Water and Sewer Authority.

She said CRG would help with applications for the grants.

According to Flowers the plan is to use global positioning data to determine settlement patterns, locate where decentralized sewer systems are needed and create a master plan. She said there might not be funds available to sewer the whole county, but possibly in phases.

Flowers said there are also manufacturers of decentralized sewer systems who would like to work with other groups to test some of their products here.

She said the house-to-house survey will identify where the people of Lowndes County live. And she said, with United States Department of Agriculture soil survey data available on the county, the needs for raw sewage treatment can be planned.

Flowers said information taken in the survey would not be used against people who reveal they don’t have a septic system. She also said no one would be forced to take the survey.

“We are not going to coerce or intimidate anybody. We’ll do public service announcements to encourage participation,” she said.

Flowers said the survey won’t take more than 30 minutes and will include questions such as: Do you have septic system, yes or no? If so, how old? And, do you have a problem with plumbing?

Flowers said it would take five to six months to survey the entire county beginning this month.

“What we put together here is going to a master plan for addressing or a blueprint for addressing this nationwide in rural areas like Lowndes County,” said Flowers. “Because this is a national demonstration project that is being funded by EPA.”

No action was taken on this matter Monday.

Rodney Rudolph, representing the Lowndes County Firefighters Association, appeared before the commission to report how they can be used as a tool to recruit businesses to the county.

He reported on activities by the various fire departments in the county to respond to fires, accidents, medical emergencies, hazardous materials, as well search and rescue. He said the departments are working with the Emergency Management Agency to get a mass casualty response unit ready and to create hazardous materials response team.

Rudolph said the association would like to come before the commission quarterly to report on the runs made by each department in county.

Wanda Moultry, executive director of the Community Action Agency appeared before the commission to submit their procedure to select their board members for commission approval. No action was taken on this matter at Monday’s meeting.

In actions taken, the commission approved invoices, minutes and an agreement with the Montgomery Detention Center for one bed in Montgomery under the consent agreement.

The commission asked Administrator Jackie Thomas to find out how much the county could get for selling its current senior citizens vans to use those funds toward the purchase two new ones at a cost to the county of an estimated $40,000.

Thomas pointed out that the $40,000 is not in the current budget and cuts will have to be made in the budget to make the purchase.

She said if the county sells the current vans, it would receive only 20 percent of the amount of sale because 80 percent of their cost was paid by the Alabama Department of Transportation.

The commission approved a hold harmless agreement to repair potholes in Mosses and at the Mosses Meat Market parking lot for $6,000 paid to the county from the town of Mosses. The agreement was approved pending a signing of the agreement by the town of Mosses.

The vote to approve this action was three-zero-two with Commissioners Dickson Farrior and Joseph Barganier abstaining.

The commission approved the appointment of Willie Arnold and County Engineer David Butts to the E-911 Board.

While the commission went to executive session to discuss good name and character, no action was taken.