No easy fix for Highland drainage

Published 12:12am Saturday, February 23, 2013

NATCHEZ — Residents living near the Highland Boulevard bridge await relief from a messy drainage problem, and City Engineer David Gardner said his department is working on the problem every day.

Pecan Way resident Keith Massey said he smells raw sewage when heavy rains cause pressure on the sewer lines, blowing off a manhole cover near his house. When this occurs, sewage sprays onto the bridge. More importantly, Massey said, the water on the bridge creates a safety hazard for drivers.

“It’s a wonder someone hasn’t been killed right there with the amount of water on the road,” he said. “That much water on the road is going to be an issue when someone gets hurt.”

Although the water hazard of the bridge is dangerous and the city is working to fix it, Gardner said, it is not unlike drainage hazards in other parts of town.

“It’s not anything different than 30 other places in town,” he said. “It’s hard to go out and put up (safety) signs at every location. We don’t have enough signs for that.”

The Department of Environmental Quality is aware of the sewer problem, Gardner said, and aware that the city has plans to fix it.

Pecan Way resident Dennis Lindsey said the water has been overflowing onto the bridge for years. He said toilet paper and feminine products also wash up in the bayou behind his house.

One of the issues causing the draining problem, Gardner said, is people illegally hooking up their gutters to sewer lines instead of drainage lines.

But Gardner said the solution the problem is not just as easy as replacing the sewer line.

Fixing the problem, Gardner said, will require a holding pond of some sort.

“I’m looking at maybe converting one of our storage lagoons into that, but I can’t really commit to that until we figure a few things out,” Gardner said.

Those things, he said, include determining if the storage lagoon will need to be used to accommodate “high-strength sewer” needs for alternative fuel producer KiOR and chemical manufacturer Elevance at the port.

Gardner said Elevance is looking to ramp up their production, and with that will come additional sewer needs.

“Even though (the port) is 2 miles down the road, all those things play into the equation,” Gardner said.

Although residents may not see the city on Highland Boulevard working to fix the problem, Gardener said, that does not mean nothing is being done.

“We actually met a little bit (Friday) and discussed the problem,” Gardner said. “It’s definitely one of our high-priority projects. Our goal is to get it alleviated as soon as we possibly can.”

The drainage problem not only causes problems at the Highland Boulevard bridge, Gardner said, it also overwhelms the city’s nearby waste water treatment plant.

“That much volume causes mechanical problems at the plant,” he said. “So there’s just a lot of reasons why we want to get it fixed.”

Gardner said $500,000 has been set aside in this year’s budget to fix the problem, but the city still has planning to complete for the project.

“It’s going to be a very costly fix, but it’s something we’re committed to doing,” Gardner said. “But it is something that cannot be done overnight.

“I’ve always said the hardest part of any project is before you get a shovel out. The planning part of a project is the longest and hardest part.”