The folks at Paradise Ranch Resort laid out their plans for a high-end wastewater treatment plant Tuesday night, but few people showed up to listen, despite much opposition on Facebook.
The 220-acre resort is located on Highway 48 east of Magnolia just inside the Walthall County line near the Bogue Chitto River. It has a large swimming pool, a lake, a herd of New Zealand red deer, 91 campsites and nine cabins with two more on the way.
Sean Vidrine bought the resort in February 2019. Planning to expand the amenities — more campsites, cabins and water features — he contacted Hoot Systems about building a commercial wastewater treatment plant instead of the leach field currently under use.
Vidrine held Tuesday’s meeting to share his plans. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality will hold its own public hearing — virtually — at a later date.
“There have been a lot of things said, a lot of misinformation about what we want to do here at Paradise Ranch,” Vidrine told about 10 people, including a couple of reporters, on a cold, drizzly, windy night under a large covered patio. “We’re here to set the record straight,”
Todd Cormier of Hoot Systems presented a slide show, noting his company specializes in environmentally sensitive cases.
He said Paradise asked him to design a “premier system” for the resort. His plan exceeds the “10-state standard” as well as DEQ requirements.
It’s called an Advanced Nutrient Treatment System and uses an “extended aeration process” further purified by chlorine.
“Bacteria digest and eat and clean the water, not filters and screens,” Cormier said.
The treated wastewater will run into the ranch’s lake and then into a creek that flows into the Bogue Chitto.
“The unit they have selected is three times better treatment than what the standards require,” he said.
Cormier noted that numerous municipalities and businesses already discharge treated sewage into the river and are monitored by DEQ.
Hoot has installed more than 150,000 residential units and more than 10,000 commercial systems throughout the U.S.
Cormier gave examples of similar systems Hoot has designed, including one at youth camp along the Nueces River in Texas. It was so efficient it was used to purify the groundwater as well, Cormier said.
‘No treated wastewater’
Visitors weren’t convinced.
“Our goal as home-owners along the river is to have no treated wastewater in our river,” said Renee McGinnis, who was present with her husband Briggs. “Your business has brought a lot of money to our community. We don’t want to shut you down. But you have a lot of land.”
She suggested expanding the leach field. She also said she doesn’t have much faith in the DEQ.
Vidrine said soil samples indicate an expanded leach field is not the best solution.
“We spent a lot of money on soil samples,” he said. “If a spray discharge had been an option, we would have done that.”
He also said a leach field isn’t monitored by DEQ, while a wastewater treatment plant is.
“That is not as good an option as what we’re trying to do, in my opinion,” he said.
He said he will hire a certified operator to run the system, which will be tested weekly instead of quarterly as DEQ requires.
“It’s going to cost a ton of money to do this,” Vidrine said. “We’re going above and beyond.”
Would you let your kids swim?
Briggs McGinnis asked about the possibility of the plant being flooded during high water, but Cormier said the concrete tanks will be eight feet above the ground.
Landowner Lance Whittemore said, “I’ve been on this river for 50 years. I really appreciate y’all doing this (meeting). I’m a little disappointed in the turnout. Everybody on Facebook is ready to slap your jaws.”
Then he got down to basics: “Would you let your children swim?”
“I do,” Cormier said.
“We have no intention of doing anything that will harm that river,” Vidrine said. “We’re not the big bad guy that wants to discharge raw sewage into this river.”
Ranch manager Corey Lamont said his kids swim in the river and will continue to do so.
“I live on the river. I looked into that system,” Lamont said. “You’ve got my kids fishing in that creek, swimming in that creek. My well would be the first one affected.”
Renee McGinnis said the presentation changed her mind. “We thought y’all were doing the cheapest thing,” she said.
Her husband agreed.
“This has been very educational. I feel a whole lot better,” Briggs McGinnis said.
“I learned a lot tonight,” Whittemore said after the meeting. “I’m glad I came.”
He summarized what he learned: “It’s going to cost them a lot more. It’s going to be monitored. It looks like they’re doing the right thing. They’re putting in a system that’s going to cost them way more than they can get by with.”
Meanwhile, controversy erupted on the Friends of the Bogue Chitto River Facebook page, which was set up to oppose Paradise’s plans.
The page had discouraged people from attending the meeting since the DEQ wasn’t involved. It then reportedly deleted posts made by people who did attend.
Those deletions caused outcry by members who said they wanted to know more information, pro or con.
The administrator responded, “No pro-permit members welcome in this group. Sorry.”