City officials may be seeing the light at the end of a long and expensive tunnel.
Dothan Utilities Director Billy Mayes told the Dothan City Commission Tuesday that officials hope to submit a request next year for relief of a consent order the Environmental Protection Agency levied against the city. The 2012 order mandated several large sewerage improvement projects and the development of maintenance and other programs that eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) in Dothan.
The city has spent about $125 million in sewer upgrades in the last several years, Mayes said, though a $39 million upgrade to the Omussee Wastewater Treatment Plant satisfied an Alabama Department of Environmental Management edict.
“The majority of the big stuff we have addressed,” Mayes said.
At the time of the consent order, most sanitary sewer overflows resulted from heavy rainfall entering the sewer system through faulty, antiquated lines. The EPA required Dothan to develop a plan of addressing the faulty lines, different maintenance programs and a Fats, Oils and Grease (FOG) ordinance that reduced the amount of those substances clogging the system.
A September presentation from Barge Design Solutions, an engineering firm the city hired to help with consent order, revealed the effectiveness of the programs and maintenance work. In 2013 the city recorded 114 SSOs, a number that fell to 26 in the first nine months of 2018.
Additionally the city reduced the amount of sewage escaping in each overflow. In 2017, an estimated 615,000 gallons overflowed from the system, a number that dropped to 39,000 gallons in the first nine months of 2018.
While Dothan Utilities will have to continuously monitor the more than 500 miles of sewerage pipes in perpetuity and engage in improvement projects, officials believe a request to leave the order is appropriate if submitted in late spring or early summer, Mayes said.
“We’ve proven we put the programs in place,” he said. “The lower volumes (of SSOs) are due to fewer problems in the system. We are at a point we can propose to leave the order and it should be granted.”
City officials are preparing for at least four more major sewerage upgrades in the next six years. The city’s proposed budget includes $8.5 million for the upgrade of a trunk line feeding the Omussee Wastewater Treatment Plant and another $2.05 million for priority projects identified in problem areas, Mayes said.
Barge continues to assess two other trunk lines at Beaver Creek and the Little Choctawhatchee wastewater plants. Mayes said he expects both lines to need rehabilitation given their age – a cost currently budgeted at $7.7 million and $11.2 million, respectively.
The city’s capital improvement plan notes those upgrades could occur in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.