COVINGTON -- Septic tank service company owners in Newton County are warning residents their prices to pump may increase due to changes at local wastewater treatment facilities.
As of June 1, the city of Covington will no longer accept septic waste outside the city sewer service area. The only other Newton facility accepting the waste is the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority treatment plant on Lower River Road.
While the city of Covington charges $75 per 1,000 gallons of waste, WASA's facility charges $400 per truckload, regardless of the amount. A typical truck holds 2,000 gallons, meaning the price for some of these companies to dump the waste will increase from $150 to $400.
"We're going to have to add that on to our bill," Dean Ray of Ace Septic Tank said. "The consumer is going to be hurt in the long run."
Ray predicts some companies will wind up using facilities in other counties, which will increase fuel costs, also adding to the customers' bills. He also worries about illegal dumping, down manholes and such.
Both Ray and Richard Hamlin of Tri-County Septic Tank question why it costs so much to dispose of the waste at the WASA facility. A price hike occurred in January following a study the authority commissioned to determine how much it costs to treat septic waste.
Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, said the authority paid $70,000 for a detailed study by an engineering consulting firm to determine the adequate charge for septic disposal. The study was completed in December.
Septic waste is "more robust" than the typical waste the facility processes, requires more chemicals to treat and takes up more capacity in the plant, he said.
The authority accepts two loads of residential septic waste per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, by appointment. Commercial septic waste is not accepted.
Ray and Hamlin argue that they are providing a service to taxpayers who funded these facilities.
"It's Newton County waste. Newton County should take its own waste and do it affordably," Hamlin said. "The last time I checked everybody in Newton County paid taxes and those taxes went to build those buildings, whether it was government loans or grants or whatever."
Hopkins said the facilities are funded through user fees of water and sewer customers, not tax dollars.
"We're not trying to keep them out. But we can't operate at a loss. If we had county tax dollars, it might be a different story," he said.
Hopkins added that there was some misunderstanding that the authority would no longer take septic waste following the flood of 2009. "We physically could not accept septic because the infrastructure was destroyed by the flood," he said. The authority spent $3 million in repairs and began accepting septic again in November 2011. But since the rate increase and additional regulations put in place as a result of the study, "nobody wants to come," he said. Providing a site for septic waste disposal "is a service, not an obligation," he added.
As for the city of Covington, City Manager Steve Horton said it has accepted loads from septic tank haulers since December 2003.
"It is my understanding that the loads disposed of or discharged at the city's treatment plant have, to date, come only from locations inside of Newton County. However, recently due to complaints from residents about the odors associated with the septic tank trucks dumping at the city plant and the continued, added work that it creates for staff, it was decided that the city of Covington would reduce its acceptance of septic tank waste loads and, as of June 1, 2012, only receive loads from locations inside of the city of Covington sewer service delivery area, not all of Newton County," he said. "In addition, septic tank loads that are received at the city of Covington plant will continue to be accepted by appointments only."
The city treatment facility on the Bypass Road accepts three loads per day, Monday through Friday.
"We expect the number of trucks discharging at our facility to be reduced dramatically. It is my understanding that there are not very many septic tanks in our service area," said Phil Smith, water reclamation facility operations supervisor.