Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

TOP STORY>> Officials say sewer woes not as bad

IN SHORT: Problems cited by state and federal officials have been addressed in Cabot.

By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer

Cabot’s sewer treatment plant is too small for its growing population and functions poorly, but the man who is ultimately responsible for its operation says it isn’t quite as bad off as it appears from comments made in letters from the state and federal agencies that are closely watching it.

Jim Towe, Cabot public works director, said this week that some of the problems noted recently by inspectors with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency were because parts of the plant were shut down for repairs. Those repairs have been made and the plant is again functioning normally.
And as for the workers being so poorly trained that they are unable to understand the reasons for the problems at the plant, Towe says it should be known that their immediate supervisor was out of town when the ADEQ and EPA made its surprise inspection.

The staff was intimidated by the inspectors, he said, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are doing.

The city council last week started the process of raising sewer rates to pay for a $16.5 million sewer treatment plant.

At the same time, David Hicks, a member of the Public Utilities Commission that the council abolished and revamped as the Water and Wastewater Commission, announced that a group of concerned citizens were starting a petition drive to challenge the rate increase and build the facility with an existing one-cent sales tax.

No one who has been involved with the operation of the plant says it shouldn’t be replaced especially since the city has already been fined about $25,000 and could be fined even more since the EPA has started monitoring it.

But Towe says workers at the plant are doing their best to maintain it until that happens.

In a letter to Trey Lieblong, district field inspector with the ADEQ dated June 22, Towe responded to the shortcomings noted in Lieblong’s letter dated June 13 saying the city is aware that the current treatment plant is inadequate and is taking steps to build a new one.

As for the workers at the plant,he acknowledges that most haven’t been trained long, but they are trained.

Towe writes in part: “The inadequacy of the current facility is acknowledged; however, the city of Cabot in association with USI Engineering/Burns & McDonnell is committed to the construction of a new facility in order to eliminate violations and improve the environmental quality throughout the city.

“The wastewater department views training as a priority. Training of all personnel is ongoing.

“Most of the current wastewater employees had no previous wastewater treatment or operations experience prior to their employment with the city.

All but one (out of seven) has been on staff less than two years. As of September 1, 2003, one employee was licensed as a class 1 operator. Currently there are four Class I operators, one Class II and two Class III’s. All Class I operators are currently scheduled for upgrade training through both the Arkansas Environmental Academy and Arkansas Rural Water Association.”