HOULKA • Houlka is now one major step closer to beginning state-mandated improvement work on its sewage lagoon.

Houlka aldermen recently voted unanimously to award a $1.725 million contract for the work to Phillips Contracting of Columbus.

The only other bidder for the project – Eubanks Construction of Booneville – offered a bid of $2.1 million for the work, Mayor Jimmy Kelly said this week.

Copies of the bid have been sent to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality for approval, the mayor said.

As of this week, Houlka had not heard back from MDEQ.

Once DEQ signs off on the bid, and the weather improves, a starting date can be set for the work.

“This has been a long, drawn out process. It’s taken over three years just to get to this point. I’ll be glad to see the project finally get started,” the mayor said.

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.

To meet the cost of upgrading the lagoon, the town was approved late last year for a $1.9 million state revolving loan that will pay for the state-required improvements to the lagoon.

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 loan carries a 1.75 percent interest rate.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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