State very critical of Uniontown’s work to treat wastewater issues

Published 6:12 pm Thursday, March 27, 2014

UNIONTOWN — A war of words between the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and a Tuscaloosa-based engineering firm over issues with the wastewater treatment facilities in Uniontown has left the future of the project in question.

A scathing report from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, addressed to the city of Uniontown in late February, listed a number of issues with the city’s two wastewater sprayfields — one that is currently in service, and a second currently being built by Sentell Engineering Inc.

Scott Hughes, spokesperson with ADEM, said the agency has been aware of the issues surrounding the sprayfields for a long time.

“We have been dedicating resources to the oversight of the Uniontown Wastewater Treatment facility for several years now, and we have documented non-compliance issues with that system,” Hughes said. “We don’t really quantify violations as bad or very bad or severe. Any violation of a permit is serious, and we want to make sure it gets corrected.”

The report, sent to Uniontown Mayor Jamaal Hunter on Feb. 26 by Daphne Smart, Chief of ADEM’s Industrial and Municipal Branch’s Water Division, included a list of concerns, which included buffer areas surrounding the sprayfields, the removal of new earthen retention berms, flaws in the spray pattern at the new sprayfield as well as issues with the new field’s retention of stormwater.

The letter also includes a statement from Smart expressing doubts in the ability of the new sprayfield to treat the necessary amount of sewage the city requires.

“Based on the reported capacity of the new sprayfield … the Department is very concerned that the new sprayfield will not be adequate to accommodate the reduction of flow needed from the existing sprayfield to comply with permit conditions and the enforcement actions which have been taken by the Department,” Smart said in the statement.

In a response to ADEM, sent March 13, Sentell Engineering Inc. professional engineer John Stevens, addressed several of the agency’s concerns.

In his letter to ADEM, Stevens said his firm had continued to work with the city to remedy concerns about leaks in the old field’s collection and output systems, as well as the timeline and cost for the correction of the issues and completion of the project.

Hughes said the age of the old sprayfield, which is at least 20 years old, has been considered by ADEM, but he added that current issues with both fields are the agency’s main concern now.

“We realize the issue of aging infrastructure and are trying to address that, but when we get in situations like Uniontown where we have serious non-compliance issues we have to move forward in our enforcement process to get that corrected,” Hughes said.

Thursday, Stevens said his firm is working hard to not only complete work on the new field, but to also make the necessary upgrades to the old one — something he said was not in his company’s budget at the start of the project.

“[ADEM is] telling us we need to make these upgrades to the first field, but we didn’t engineer the first field. It was done by another company 20 or 30 years ago, and we had nothing to do with it,” Stevens said. “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.”

Moving forward, Stevens said the main focus for his firm is to find funding to continue the work.

“We are working with a grant writer so we can send most of this water now to the river,” Stevens said, highlighting ADEM’s late request to remove a retention berm that his crews had constructed. “The problem is we just spent all of our money putting it there. If you had told me ahead of time, I wouldn’t have spent all the money. We could have spent it on something else.”

Stevens said there are no streams in Uniontown that are large enough to carry treated water to the Black Warrior River, meaning his crews would have to start speaking with residents in the coming weeks about purchasing easements to have the water piped to the river.