EXCLUSIVE: Town of Priceville under fire for violating environmental laws

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management clocked Priceville with six environmental violations for high E. coli levels and improper reporting.
Updated: Aug. 11, 2020 at 6:13 PM CDT
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PRICEVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Priceville is facing a number of violations all stemming from sewage lagoon.

Alabama Department of Environmental Management documents show the town has record high E. coli numbers. In addition, the town failed to report that, failed to report sewage overflows, and incorrectly reported state required information.

The lagoon collects sewage from all households in Priceville and Somerville.

Priceville Chairman of Sewage Jerry Welch tells WAFF, in January, he realized the lagoon wasn’t filtering correctly.

”I was never told by our staff that we had a problem. I never knew that until ADEM came in unannounced, took a sample, and published the results. That’s the first time I read any of those numbers,” Welch explained.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management took samples on February 27. The E. coli numbers from that sample are 14 times the department’s limit. The daily maximum E. coli permit level, according to ADEM is 235 col/100mL.

When ADEM tested in February, the results read a daily maximum E. coli level of 3,320 col/100mL.

”I was shocked,” Welch said.

High levels of E. coli are just one issue mentioned in the Notice of Violation.

Priceville Sewage also failed to tell ADEM they were discharging sewage with high levels of E .coli into the Tennessee River. In addition, the city discharged sanitary sewage overflows without a permit, took samples without a permit, failed to operate their lagoon properly and failed to provide ADEM with specific measurements and information on all samples taken.

Priceville’s Mayor Melvin Duran, who is also the superintendent of sewage, says this was an oversight made by operators who work at the lagoon.

“To be totally honest with you we didn’t keep up with the growth of the sewer. All of a sudden we get bad samples, everyone gets concerned and everyone says hey we gotta fix it. And that’s what we’re doing,” said Melvin.

According to ADEM, sewage samples must be recorded and reported to the agency monthly. ADEM documents show Priceville failed to report on several occasions between July 2018 and July 2020.

“It’s our proposal to correct this situation. The proposal is very simple. As you see this lagoon, we have absolutely no control from beginning to end,” Welch said.

Welch tells WAFF they’re proposing a new filtration system to ADEM Thursday to get rid of solids in the waste, as well as filtering out toxins - such as e.coli- before it reaches the river.

If the new filtration system is approved by ADEM Thursday, it could be implemented within the next six months.

This does not impact the drinking water in Priceville.

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