Levees to be built at wastewater treatment plant|[02/25/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 25, 2008

Flooding caused more than $1 million in damage to Vicksburg’s wastewater treatment facility in April 2003, but a levee system OK’d for a Mississippi Development Authority grant may prevent a repeat of the event.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said the Hurricane Katrina-related block grant will total about $800,000, but the project’s price is estimated to be $1.8 million, plant manager Rosemary Bagby said. City strategic planner Paul Rogers said some funding is still available for sewer projects from a 2003 bond issue, and that up to $1.2 million could be set aside for the project.

All city sewer lines flow toward the plant on Rifle Range Road, where sewage is treated and cleaned effluent is sent into the Mississippi River. Because the area is low, several Vicksburg bayous also converge southwest of the plant on their way to the river. When hard rains cause the bayous to overflow, the existing protective enclosures can be overtopped.

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Plant facilities sit 95 to 100 feet above sea level, Bagby said. Floodwaters at the plant have reached 112 feet, according to an engineer’s report.

When water rises, plant employees know the drill and they know when to begin working to save items inside the office. Sandbags and even a boat are kept at the facility.

Building a levee around the treatment facility on Rifle Range Road “is going to be a huge project,” Bagby said. “It’s going to be the biggest one that ever happened in conjunction to this facility. It will protect millions of dollars worth of equipment.”

Heavy rains on April 6, 2003, totaled more than 8 inches and flooded Stouts and Hatcher bayous. Clarifying tanks in the treatment system were overtopped and there were 3 to 4 feet of water in the office at the site. Damaged pumps also let untreated sewage flow directly into the Mississippi River and contaminate the plant and its offices.

The contamination took months to clean and left Bagby ill, she said.

The night of the 2003 flood, she and other plant employees were rescued by boat at around midnight.

Repairs to pumps and equipment, plus the costly environmental cleanup, totaled around $1.5 million, Bagby said.

Flooding in 2005 during hurricanes Rita and Katrina was substantial, but less severe, she said. The plant also was damaged by flooding soon after it was completed in 1973.

The proposed 15-foot levees would be 10 feet wide at the top and surround most plant facilities, offices and an Entergy substation that serves 2,400 customers in the area. The levee wall will leave room for two more trickling filters, which could double the plant’s capacity should the future require it, Bagby said.

City officials were informed in early February about the grant’s approval, though Bagby and Rogers still had not received details. The grant application was prepared through the office of Jimmy Gouras Urban Planning Consultants.

Bagby said she believed the money would be available in October. The project would then enter a design phase, and bidding processes for engineering and construction would commence.

Bagby, who plans to retire next February, said she will probably not be the director when the project is completed. She also said the plant will buy two power generators with money allocated this year, one to power the treatment facility and one to power the offices and a pumps system for draining rainwater from inside the levee walls.

“We’re actually required to have (generators) for our license,” she said.

A new liquid chlorine system said to be a safer method of treating effluent water, costing about $100,000, will be installed this year. This includes the price of replacing one of the plant’s two effluent pumps.