Sewer improvement plans questioned

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A joint city-county sewer improvement effort surfaced again Tuesday night as two residents questioned their exclusion from project plans.

     Brookhaven officials, through the county, are pursuing a Community Development Block Grant to aid in a $1.2 million sewer improvement project in Wards Two and Three.

     If approved, the grant would cover about $600,000 and the city would match the remainder. City officials said the grant would benefit about 160 homes.

     In a move that stirred controversy between Mayor Les Bumgarner and Lincoln County District One Supervisor the Rev. Jerry Wilson, portions of Manson Street and Honeysuckle Drive were not included as part of the project. Bumgarner said providing sewage lift stations for two houses in that area would cost around $46,000.

     Cassandra and Larry Washington, of 1150 Manson St., came before the board Tuesday night to ask why they were excluded when the grant is intended to help their part of the city.

     “Even though it may not be but one person, we are still citizens of Brookhaven and the United States,” Cassandra Washington said.

     With the exception of one to service the Lincoln Civic Center, Bumgarner said the city has never purchased lift stations for developments. He said property developers install those to city specifications and then transfer them to the city for operation and ongoing maintenance.

     “We have not done one for any private individual,” the mayor said.

     Bumgarner went on to deny knowing that Manson Street and Honeysuckle Drive were ever part of the plan.

     Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson, the supervisor’s wife, said her husband added the streets when city and county project considerations were combined. Aldermen, though, opted to move forward with the project plan that did not include the two streets in question.

     Jerry Wilson, who was in the boardroom audience last night, charged that Bumgarner was not being truthful. When he attempted to participate in the discussion, Bumgarner denied his request and Wilson eventually left the boardroom.

     “I’ve been called a liar and a racist over a project I didn’t even know about,” Bumgarner said at one point during the discussion.

     Mike McKenzie, with the WGK engineering firm, was summoned to explain the situation and the reasoning behind the city board’s decision.

     The engineer indicated it was a matter of priorities, with the project being able to improve services for more people. He cautioned there has been no decision on whether the city will even get the grant.

     “There’s no guarantee we’re going to get any money for any of this,” McKenzie said.

     After the meeting, Bumgarner said the city should know whether it is getting any grant funds by the end of the summer.

     During the meeting, the Washingtons maintained they should be included in the project. They said they have been waiting 20 years to hook on to city sewer and that repeated prior requests to join have been denied by city administrations.

     “We fit the bill because we don’t have city sewer,” Larry Washington said.

     He said Brookhaven is a great place but went on to urge aldermen to work to live up to the city’s motto of Homeseekers Paradise.

     “Right now I’m not in paradise,” Washington said.

     Bumgarner countered that residents intended to be helped by the project are paying for city water and sewer services but are having sewage back up in their homes.

     “They’re not being treated fairly,” Bumgarner said.

     Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates spoke in support of the Washingtons and other residents in need of city sewer services. Citing annexation-related issues, the alderman predicted the city will need to change its policy regarding lift stations for residential developments and include them in projects to help those in need.

     “One day we’re going to have to do it,” Bates said.

     Following the lengthy discussion, aldermen took no action to modify project plans.