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Local officials want the straight scoop on septage spray field in Lincoln

Septic spray field

Aerial photo showing a field in Lincoln that is used for spraying waste. 

LINCOLN — Local officials are expressing concerns over the continued operation for a septage spray field in Lincoln.

The field, located on Holly Hills Road across from the Lincoln Baseball Park, has been a topic of public discussion since January 2020 when concerned residents met with Lincoln's mayor along with members of the Lincoln City Council and the Talladega County Commission. The field eventually became such an issue with residents that an amendment to the Alabama Constitution was passed in November 2020 to ban the practice of septage spray fields, also called land application fields, in Talladega County entirely.

Current concerns stem mainly from the field's continued operation, especially with the recent passing of its owner Arthur “Bo” Header, who owned Oxford-based Absolute Environmental Disposal, which operates the field.

County Commissioner Jackie Swinford said he did not understand why the field could still operate if the man who held the permit for it had passed away.

“From what I understand it's not supposed to be transferable,” the commissioner said Friday. “I hate it for his family but I have my constituents to look after.”

Swinford said he has contacted the Alabama Department of Public Health about the matter but had not yet gotten a response Friday afternoon.

Sherry Bradley, the Director of ADPH’s Bureau of Environmental Services, said the Header’s passing is not a real issue as the license itself is to the business not the person so there is no need to transfer a license.

“The permit is issued to Absolute Environmental Disposal, LLC,” she said. The company can continue under certain circumstances.”

She said those facts are still being determined.

Lincoln Mayor Lew Watson has also expressed concerns about the field because of what he says are possible violations of the ADPH’s rules governing septage fields as documented by Lincoln resident Larry Phillips. Phillips has made this documentation available to the Daily Home as well.

“Mr. Phillips has provided numerous photos of violations, or alleged violations,” Watson said.

Watson said this includes images of dumping on what appeared to be a saturated field and E-coli samples. The mayor said Phillips has been sending this documentation to ADPH as well.

“Seems like those emails have little to no effect,” Watson said adding that he simply wants answers.

Another issue is the fact that the field is operating at all after the amendments passed. In December the County Commission petitioned Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall for an opinion if the permit for the field was invalid or if the field would simply need to shut down after its current permit expired.

County Administrator Pat Lyle said the commission never received an opinion with the AG’s office citing that they did not have standing to make the request. In a letter provided by Lyle, Marshall’s office said the Talladega County Commission neither issues, nor enforces, septage permits and, “Therefore, this inquiry is beyond the scope of the Commission’s duties.”

Swinford said he understood the issue was due to the matter being a source of possible litigation stopping the AG from issuing an opinion.

Watson said he was disappointed with the AG’s response to the request.

“That just reflects the lack of concern from the attorney general on matters that affect the residents of Alabama,” he said.

Bradley said the current permit was issued before the constitution amendment and is therefore valid for its set term. She was asked through email if the permit could be renewed for more than its current term, though she did not reply in time for publication.

Both Watson and Swinford understand the amendment to mean the field will have to stop operations at the end of its current permit term.

“The amendment prohibits any activity like this at the end of the current licensing period,” Watson said.

Taylor Mitchell, Daily Home reporter covering Pell City.