HAYNEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Federal and state officials on Friday marked the start of a $10 million project aimed at repairing and upgrading an Alabama community's failing sewer system that has left residents dealing with pools of raw sewage at their homes.
The project in Hayneville is being funded from money allocated to the state by the American Rescue Plan — a portion of which state officials steered to high-need water and sewer projects — and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management and local officials signed the funding agreements on Friday for the Infrastructure Act funding.
The people of Hayneville, a community in Lowndes County of fewer than 1,000 people, have long lived with an ill-functioning sewer system that causes sewage to back up into their yards and homes. Hayneville Mayor Jimmie Davis said the sewage system is failing and the small town doesn’t have the money to undertake this type of project.
“The town has significant sewer and water needs that can have direct effect on residents’ health and well-being. Meeting those and other infrastructure needs in Lowndes County was a priority for the department," Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Lance LeFleur wrote in a statement.
About one-third of the people in Hayneville live in poverty. The county's plight has drawn the attention of national environmental and social justice activists, as well as federal and state officials.
The heads of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture came to Lowndes County last year to announce a separate pilot program to help rural communities that face serious sewage problems like those in Hayneville. Many residents in the county aren’t connected to a centralized sewer system, and regular septic systems often don’t function properly because of the dense soil in the region.
Alabama lawmakers voted last year to use about $225 million from the American Rescue Plan for water and sewer projects. The state also used Rescue Plan funds for broadband expansion and prison construction. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management also awarded $2.2 million to the Department of Public Health for a demonstration project in Lowndes County using special septic systems designed to cope with the dense soil in the Black Belt region.
The U.S. Department of Justice in 2021 announced an environmental justice investigation into the county’s longstanding wastewater problems.