HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - In February of 2020, The Alabama Department of Environmental Management conducted an inspection of the wastewater lagoons in Priceville. During the inspection, ADEM found several violations of Priceville’s discharge permit.
There are allegations that the town was releasing untreated water onto the Tennessee river with E. coli levels as much as 14 times permitted and was testing multiple water samples from its wastewater lagoon and only reporting those results that met state regulations.
Priceville Lagoon is the only treatment facility for Priceville and Somerville. Wastewater from the lagoon is sent into the Tennessee River close to a popular boat ramp and swimming area.
ADEM charged the Priceville Council a $12,700 fine. The amount was reduced because the city had an inability to pay part of the civil penalty.
A proposed settlement between Priceville and the state is underway.
Priceville has made it known that no one will be fired over the fines.
“We have not made any personnel changes. We have discussed some different training aspects with our people. We’re working on fixing the things that happened in the past,” says Mayor Sam Heflin.
“We’ve got a small rearview mirror and a big windshield, and we’re moving forward.”
In addition to this, the fines require major upgrades to the Lagoon.
Krebs Engineering was hired to help Priceville after they violated regulations, and they oversee creating a compliance plan.
Last year, an employee of the lagoon went to former Councilman Jerry Welch and said they were in a sense bleaching the samples.
The employee, who was listening to a superior, says he used chlorine on the samples so the E. coli numbers reported to ADEM would be acceptable, according to Welch. E. coli is a bacterium found in feces.
“I can’t get anyone to care over there. They’re mad at me because I went to ADEM. They’re disgusted,” says Welch.
“I went to as many people as I could to get this corrected. If I hadn’t done what I did — going to the state and getting them to come in and get real numbers — we would still be sending all of this E. coli to the river with no changes.”
According to the consent order, Priceville has until June 2022 to comply with all permits and have an engineer prepare a plan to upgrade the sewer system.