By Patrick McCreless

The Hanceville Water and Sewer Board has less than 45 days to begin payments on a $25,700 state fine for several unpermitted discharges from the city treatment plant before it faces stiffer penalties.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management slapped the sewer board with a proposed fine for the discharges on Jan. 25. The unilateral order to pay the fine was finalized on March 11.

“The civil penalty is due within 45 days of the order going into effect,” said Scott Hughes, spokesman for ADEM. “They have not paid any of it yet.”

Hanceville Water and Sewer Board Co-Manager Sally Alexander said efforts to pay the fine have already been made.

“I’ve already sent in a request to ADEM to make 12 monthly installments for $2,141.66 a month,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the money for the fine would come from the sewer board’s general fund and would be a disbursement of sewer revenue money.

ADEM proposed the fine after the Hanceville treatment plant had eight instances of unpermitted discharges into Mud Creek that resulted from the release of biological sludge. Among the discharges was a 50,000 gallon release on Aug. 10, 2006, an 80,000 gallon release on Aug. 29, 2007 and a 100,000 gallon release on Sept. 14, 2007.

Alexander said the discharges were mainly due to water infiltration into the city’s aging sewer system.

“We are working on grants to replace sewer lines to keep water from coming into the plant,” she said.

Alexander said she did not yet know what kind of impact, if any, the fine would have on the sewer board.

“It didn’t help, that’s for sure,” Alexander said.

She noted, however, that the fine might have an impact on the board’s ability to pay for a $187,000 tertiary filter recently ordered for the plant. The filter equipment is expected to arrive for installation between March 21 and March 25.

“We’ll have to go forward with that (installation) even if we have to borrow money,” Alexander said. “Hopefully we will not have to do that.”

Alexander said the tertiary filter would be a great help in preventing future unpermitted discharges from the plant.

“It will ensure that nothing goes into the creek,” Alexander said. “That’s what we want to achieve.”

Alexander added that more money would be available to pay for the needed filter if the Hanceville City Council would sign a subordination agreement to consolidate two bonds it shares with the sewer board. Consolidating the bonds would free up approximately $80,000 in spending money for the board.

During their regular meeting on March 10, the city council tabled signing the agreement for one month. At the meeting, council member Hubert Jones said the signing was tabled to give the water board time to stabilize its financial problems, namely its fine from ADEM.

“If the city would sign the subordination agreement ... it would help a lot,” Alexander said.

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