OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — East Oktibbeha Wastewater District is delinquent on more than $500,000 of wastewater service payments to Mississippi State University, according to a civil complaint the university filed Tuesday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court.
In the complaint, MSU claims that since 2017, the district “failed and continues to fail to honor its contractual obligations by not paying all amounts owed and is, therefore, in breach of contract.”
A civil complaint is one side of a legal argument.
Formed in 2009, the East Oktibbeha Wastewater District services about 30% of the rural portion of the county. Its sewer lines run from Rockhill Road north of Starkville, east along the county line to Robinson Road in the Oktoc community to the south.
In 2013, East Oktibbeha signed a contract with MSU and the city of Starkville so the district could access the city’s wastewater treatment facility. The contract allows the district to deliver its wastewater to MSU pumping stations before it is sent to Starkville facilities for processing.
The university bills the district for that service and caps the wastewater it will accept at 12 million gallons per month.
The contract lays out that the wastewater district is responsible for building the infrastructure needed to deliver its wastewater to MSU’s North Farm Wastewater Pumping Station and the Viking Developments delivery point. MSU and the city are responsible for their respective facilities.
The contract allows for an interest rate of 1.5% to be added to any unpaid bill after the due date. After 60 days of non-payment, services may be suspended.
MSU claims the district became delinquent in its payments in 2017. It also claims the two sides had discussions continuing into 2018 about the district paying the full amount owed, but the lawsuit does not specify how many months the district was delinquent, or if East Oktibbeha made partial payments.
The complaint alleges the debt has surpassed $500,000, including interest, and claims the amount grows monthly with each deficient or non-payment of the debt.
“After years of sincere efforts to reach an effective resolution for the breach of contract concerns outlined in this litigation, Mississippi State University had no choice but to take the legal actions necessary to protect our rights and to seek recovery of significant funds that we believe are owed to our institution,” Sid Salter, MSU vice president for strategic communication, said Wednesday in an email to The Dispatch. “As a public entity, we believe the university has a fiduciary and legal obligation to follow this course. At this time, the university has no additional comment.”
The lawsuit comes amid the wastewater district’s efforts to use $7 million — including American Rescue Plan Act funds and state match — to expand its service area east along Highway 182 from Hickory Grove Road and possibly to parts of Old Highway 25, Poor House Road, Williams Road and Bethel Road. District manager Dwight Prisock said the expansion could add 200 or so households to the service.
However, that expansion plan hit a snag as Starkville Utilities is completing a study of its water and wastewater systems, which will determine, in part, if its treatment plant can take on the additional capacity.
East Oktibbeha needs the city’s consent before the expansion plan can be sent to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) for final approval. From there, bidding on the project can go forward.
Prisock told The Dispatch on Wednesday he was unaware of the lawsuit and could not comment.
Kevin Edwards is news editor and reports on Starkville and Oktibbeha County government.
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