Hattiesburg officials are working with MDEQ, manufacturing plants to identify downtown odors

Although officials have not yet been able to determine the exact source of the smell that has plagued downtown Hattiesburg in recent weeks, Mayor Toby Barker and his staff continue to work with the Quality Department. of the Mississippi Environment to rectify the problem.

On February 2 and 3, MDEQ visited two manufacturing plants in Hattiesburg, accompanied by the city’s wastewater consultant, who also assessed the East Hardy Street wastewater lagoons. A compliance audit was carried out in one of the manufacturing plants, which proved to be satisfactory; at that time, MDEQ officials requested sampling reports from the plant from November to January.

“At another manufacturing facility, our staff, MDEQ and our consultant have visited the plant and its lagoon system several times this week,” Barker said in a Feb. 3 Facebook post. “Although there is a smell that definitely shows up when you are near the factory, there is disagreement on whether it is ‘the smell’.

“We are also looking again at a few cells in our lagoon. While there were no test violations, we’re keeping an eye out for any recent potential changes in appearance or otherwise – outside of testing – that might indicate an issue.

Officials will now implement a 10-day composite test period to collect biological oxygen demand samples from a manufacturing plant, specifically where wastewater leaves the plant and enters the city’s lagoon.

Additionally, Barker plans to ask members of the Hattiesburg City Council to delay the annual ad valorem exemptions granted to many of the city’s industrial employers until the source of the odor is identified – or at least until some manufacturers are excluded as a source. These tax exemptions, which are generally approved after the publication of the companies’ benefit-cost analysis, are generally used for equipment upgrades and plant investments.

“Second, we are also in negotiations with one of the manufacturers in question regarding their next sanitation contract,” Barker said. “While no determination has been made as to the source of the smell, it obviously could affect how the city moves forward on this front.

“We are also evaluating the availability of an odor consultant. We should have a proposal to consider next week. I ask (residents) to continue to be patient as we try to resolve this issue as it may still take some time to determine the source.

Recent tests show that the city’s sewage lagoon – which was the source of years of complications under the previous administration – is working properly.

Under the terms of the city’s settlement with Gulf Restoration Network and the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, the city’s lagoons are tested several times a month for biochemical oxygen demand limits and total solids limits. in suspension. To receive an MDEQ violation, three consecutive months of exceeding the limits must occur.

The city hasn’t had an infraction since 2017.

The problems with the lagoon began in 2012, when Gulf Restoration Network sued the city for complying with permits regarding discharge limits into the lagoon. Two years later, city officials accepted a federal court consent judgment that required the city to be responsible for a mechanical sewage treatment plant.

After improvements were made to the lagoon system in 2016, the lagoons were recognized to be operating within limits. The city elected to file a motion to terminate the consent judgment.

In August 2017, the city settled with the Gulf Restoration Network, which included meeting new discharge limits set by MDEQ, performing composite sampling, and reporting more detailed nutrient monitoring.

In early 2021, new five-year lagoon permits were issued, and later that year the city performed additional composite testing on Cell 3 of the lagoon system.

So far this year, city officials have sent several emails regarding the smell to MDEQ and held internal meetings, with District 102 House Representative Missy McGee speaking to the MDEQ Director. .

“The mission we are conducting at the moment is a fact-finding mission. and unfortunately that could take a while,” Barker said. “Due to issues with lagoon operations in the early 2010s, we understand the sensitivity this subject brings.

“The city’s lagoons are within MDEQ prescribed limits and it’s not the same smell/problem before (this). We ask our residents to be patient as we work through what is obviously a challenge for us at this time. We are working as quickly as possible and deploying all the resources currently available through the MDEQ and our local legislative delegation.

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