HOULKA – Progress has its price, and upgrading the larger of Houlka’s two sewage lagoons is part of the cost of serving increased numbers of people and industries that have moved into the town over the years.
To meet that cost, the town was recently approved for a $1.9 million state revolving loan that will pay for state-mandated improvements to the lagoon, Mayor Jimmy Kelly said this week.
The town will soon start advertising for bids for the project, which will be overseen by Cook-Coggin Engineers of Tupelo.
Under terms of the loan, the town will be required to pay back only 25 percent of the loan, or about $330,000, over 20 years., the mayor said. The loan carries a 1.75 percent interest rate.
The upgrade is required because MDEQ (the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality) has told the town the main lagoon – constructed in the 1950s – cannot meet current state health requirements.
The town’s options --outlined to the mayor during three trips to Jackson over three years – were stark: Either improve the lagoon or pay prohibitive daily fines.
He then began a search for financial answers, and with help from Cook-Coggin, developed the plan which led to the town obtaining the loan through MDEQ.
The loan’s monthly payments, which begin July 1 of 2021, will be deducted from the town’s monthly sales tax rebate.
It’s a painless way to repay the loan, the mayor said. “It’s taken out before we get it. If you don’t see it you don’t miss it,” he said.
Under an agreed order with MDEQ, since the town is in the process of upgrading the main lagoon, it is exempted from meeting current health standards until July 1, 2021.
The improved lagoon must be operational by that time, town officials said.
The improvements involve enlarging the main lagoon, dredging out the settlement on the bottom, and building a treatment plant and improved aeration system for it, the mayor said.
In connection with the improvements, the town recently purchased 4.5 acres of land adjoining the larger lagoon. Some of that land will be used to accommodate the enlarged lagoon.
Town officials said the lagoon project won’t require all the new land. The unused portion will be available to the town if the lagoon has to be expanded if the town continues to grow in coming years.
The present lagoon, located in the west side of town on Industrial Drive near Ark-Ell, was constructed in the 1950s. It serves about 650 customers, including several industries, inside Houlka city limits. A smaller lagoon on the east side of town pumps to the larger lagoon.
The main lagoon is out of compliance because it is too small to process the larger amounts of waste from the increased number of people and industries that have moved into Houlka since the lagoon was built. The population then was less than half what it is now, and the industrial base was far smaller, town officials said.
Even when the project is done, “I asked what guarantees there are that state regulations won’t change and put the improved lagoon out of compliance. I was told there are none.