City to tackle years of sewer problems with USDA funding
by Jennifer Cohron
Aug 19, 2012 | 1779 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cordova’s wastewater treatment plant, which was built in 1974, will be upgraded in an upcoming sewer project that will be partially funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.  File photo
Cordova’s wastewater treatment plant, which was built in 1974, will be upgraded in an upcoming sewer project that will be partially funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. File photo
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Last week’s announcement that Cordova has been approved for $3.2 million in grants and loans from USDA Rural Development was the culmination of years of effort to fix an aging sewer system before environmental violations cost the city millions in fines and court fees.

City officials said the funding will be used to make improvements listed in a consent decree between Cordova and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management that was approved by the city council Tuesday night.

In November 2005, ADEM filed suit against the city claiming that it had had several illegal discharges from its wastewater treatment plant between March 2004 and September 2005.

The decree also states that the city’s self-reports to ADEM establish that it has continued to discharge pollutants in violation of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permit.

Following Tuesday night’s vote, council member Sandra Stricklen said the city came close to being sued in federal court over the issue.

“There’s no telling what would have happened to our community. We would have been sunk forever,” Stricklen said.

City officials say that the problem lies in a sewer system that has not been overhauled in decades but has been refinanced several times in previous administrations.

The wastewater treatment plant was built in 1974 and can no longer handle the amount of water that flows through the system after it rains, which results in overflows into the nearby river.

Mayor Jack Scott said during Thursday’s press conference with USDA representatives that ADEM has worked closely with the city for the past seven years as local officials diligently sought funding to fix its sewer problems.

He added that it was impossible to estimate how many phone calls had been made and how many people at various agencies had been contacted over the years.

“I guess y’all just felt sorry for us,” Scott said jokingly to USDA Rural Development Administrator John Padalino, who came to Cordova on Thursday for the announcement.

Ronald Davis, state director of USDA Rural Development, said that although the agency was aware of Cordova’s need prior to last spring, a visit by himself, Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager and several others less than a month after the April 27 tornadoes struck highlighted the need for USDA to get involved with recovery efforts.

“Although the need for equipment upgrades and system improvements is not a direct result of last year’s devastating tornadoes, the grant dollars and low-interest, long-term loans USDA Rural Development is providing will greatly help ease the financial burden as the city continues to recover and rebuild,” Davis said.

The city will receive a $2,098,000 grant and $791,000 loan from the Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Program to make sewer system improvements.

The Cordova Water and Gas Board was also awarded a $106,328 grant and a $269,000 loan to replace water meters that must be read manually with radio-read ones.

“There’s just not this kind of grant/loan that gets awarded every day. This is a blessing,” Scott said.