Uniontown receives $23.4 million for wastewater system

(This article was written by Will Whaley for the Demopolis Times.)


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday awarded Uniontown a $23,437,500 grant to rehabilitate the city’s entire wastewater collection system.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, said the water and wastewater system across the country are aging, overburdened and in need of replacement.

“Failure to invest in these water projects has devastating economic and public health consequences.  The dire situation in Uniontown is a prime example of a number of communities across Alabama in need of upgrades and repairs,” said Shelby. “I am proud to have led the efforts to create momentum for this project, and I would like to thank USDA for providing this critical funding. I remain committed to fighting for these greatly needed resources to combat our state’s growing infrastructure needs.”

Earlier this year, Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-AL,  helped secure an increase of $1.8 billion in an omnibus funding bill for USDA water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

“Today’s grant announcement is a huge victory for Uniontown that will have a real-life impact for thousands of Alabamians living in the rural Black Belt,” said Sewell. “Thank you to Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, Congressman Robert Aderholt, USDA State Rural Development Director Chris Beeker, and all of the state and local stakeholders who helped to make this investment possible. No American family should have to live without access to safe wastewater treatment in the 21st Century.  I have met with families in rural Alabama who struggle with the health and economic challenges created by failing wastewater systems. Every day, their stories inspire my fight in Congress for stronger investments in our wastewater infrastructure. USDA’s assistance in Uniontown is an important step forward, but the wastewater crisis facing Alabama’s rural Black Belt is not over. We must continue fighting for Uniontown, Lowndes County, and all of our state’s residents who have to live with inadequate basic resources.”

The project includes construction of an interconnection between the city of Uniontown and the city of Demopolis which will pump wastewater to Demopolis for treatment.  Once this collection system is operational, the treatment of wastewater through the city of Uniontown’s existing lagoon and spray field system will be eradicated.  The lagoons and spray field serving the city of Uniontown will be decommissioned and reclaimed, which will eliminate wastewater overflow and assist the city to better comply with environmental regulatory requirements.  Approximately 2,810 customers in the city of Uniontown and the surrounding area are served by this wastewater system.

In March, Sewell worked with House appropriators to secure $1.8 billion in additional funding for water and wastewater infrastructure under USDA as part of an omnibus spending bill. Sewell has also toured the spray fields in Uniontown and homes in Lowndes County to survey failing and inadequate wastewater systems. In May, the Congresswoman held a health fair in Hayneville with Jones to raise public awareness about the health consequences associated with failing septic systems and wastewater contamination.

Sewell has made the repair of wastewater infrastructure a top priority since she was first elected to Congress. In 2013, Rep. Sewell helped White Hall in Lowndes County secure a $1 million grant and $112K loan through the Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program (USDA) which was used to connect 50 homes and businesses to the municipal sewer lines.

Uniontown Mayor Jamaal Hunter said he was thrilled to be moving in the right direction.

Hunter added that the city was still trying to secure additional funding to help complete the project.

Hunter said he also met with Gov. Kay Ivey to see what more funding could be gained from that office.

“I’m confident that the governor’s office will contribute what they can,” he said. “We are still trying to secure additional funding that it will take to complete the project. We are still trying to get commitments from other agencies. I am very optimistic that things are moving in the right direction. This grant from USDA was a big part of the money we needed.”

As far as the option to transport waste from Uniontown to Demopolis, Hunter said early talks are still being had between Demopolis leaders and himself.

“I plan to meet with some of their leaders next week,” he said.

For over a decade, failing wastewater infrastructure has created enormous health and economic challenges for communities in rural Alabama. Since 2016, the issue has received national and international attention, with the release of a United Nations-sponsored report this year highlighting the failure of wastewater infrastructure in Alabama’s rural Black Belt.

In a report released in April 2012, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said it had mobilized scientists in response to a sewage release that had led to discolored and foul-smelling water in Freetown Creek and Chilatchee Creek.

“ADEM staff performed field observations and documented visual impacts to water in both Freetown Creek and Chilatchee Creek,” the agency said. “The negative water quality impacts were documented for a distance of nearly 20 miles downstream from the city of Uniontown wastewater treatment plant, which treats wastewater and household sewage from the city of Uniontown.”

On April 27, 2012, Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard sent a letter to Hunter, asking the city take immediate action in clearing up the problems that had affected Dallas County.

“Due to the public health and safety risks posed to all residents along either creek, however, especially in Dallas County, I would like to request the City of Uniontown, Alabama take appropriate measures immediately to repair the faulty operating waste disposal system to ensure public safety to all residents,” Ballard said in the letter.

In their release, ADEM said water quality data had been collected and was treated for a “wide-range of pollutants” including bacteria and fecal content.

“The seriousness of the discharged prompted ADEM to submit a request to the courts for a Temporary Restraining Order to be issued to the City of Uniontown for the unpermitted discharge of wastewater,” ADEM said. “ADEM has also issued a Cease and Desist Order to the City of Uniontown to address not only the unpermitted discharge of wastewater but to also initiate efforts to cleanup and remediate existing environmental impacts to the nearby streams and adjoining private property.”

In Ballard’s letter, he told Uniontown officials the ADEM testing had shown “extremely high bacteria court, as well as discoloration and odor, due to a faulty operating waste disposal located in the city of Uniontown.”

(This article originally appeared in the Saturday, November 24 issue of the Demopolis Times.)