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Carolyn and Ricky Vaughn are displeased about a Decatur Utilities pumping station next door, which they say emits a strong sewage and chemical odor.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Carolyn and Ricky Vaughn are displeased about a Decatur Utilities pumping station next door, which they say emits a strong sewage and chemical odor.

Neighbors cry foul about sewage
Couple say DU pumping station emits strong odor

By Ronnie Thomas · 340-2438

To show their anger at Decatur Utilities and Mayor Don Kyle, Ricky and Carolyn Vaughn placed signs across their front yard at 2522 Alabama 20.

They say the pumping station DU erected on Baker’s Creek next door to their home emits a strong sewage and chemical odor that is forcing them out. They say they can’t get a resolution from DU or the city.

“It is stinking so bad,” Carolyn Vaughn said. “I step out my front door, and there’s a smell like you stepped in it.”

The signs read “Don’t Buy In Decatur,” “Decatur Utilities Destroyed This Property,” “Mayor Kyle Don’t Return Calls” and “Don’t Let Decatur Dump On You.”

Terry Owens, their neighbor at 516 State Docks Road, said his problem is worse — raw sewage pouring onto his property.

He took a more drastic step: He hired a lawyer. Both he and the Vaughns believe their strategies pass the smell test.

Vaughn conceded she and her husband have been trying to sell for about five years. They put the home and 1-acre lot on the market for $119,900. Ricky Vaughn said his family began living there in 1963, when he was a fourth-grader.

Trying to find buyers

“We’re in an area that is zoned commercial, and we just wanted to move off the highway,” Carolyn Vaughn said, “then this stuff came along. We’ve had prospective buyers back out after they get a whiff. Now we’re stuck here because (DU) ruined our property. They created the problem. They need to take care of it.”

Vaughn said she called the mayor every day for two weeks and he would not return her calls. She said she put up the sign Thursday and he called Friday morning.

Kyle said he has no authority over DU because it operates independently and under a separate board. He said he previously had Vaughn’s calls referred to the utility.

“They’ve made some efforts to correct the situation at the pumping station, and they tell me they’ve communicated directly with her on numerous occasions,” he said. “If she is not getting satisfactory calls from management, she should approach the board. She didn’t care that I had made sure DU was communicating with her.”

Kyle said there have been miscommunications, misunderstandings “and I know a lot of frustrations. There has been a constant problem for several years with the new pumping station, and I know Decatur Utilities is frustrated.”

Carolyn Vaughn said near the end of former Mayor Lynn Fowler’s term, their real estate agent at the time, Freddie Thomas, told her that the city made an offer to buy the property for $85,000.

“She didn’t say why the city wanted to buy,” Vaughn said. “And she knew we wouldn’t accept it.”

But it’s an offer the Vaughns say they would accept now, on recommendation from Exit Realty of Madison, “if they paid closing costs and 6 percent commission.”

She said that last week, Kem Carr, DU general manager, asked “if we would be willing to take $76,000. We told him no. But it gets better.”

She said the couple filed a report with the Morgan County Health Department on Dec. 7 and that the agency sent two people to their home the same day.

“They did a report,” Vaughn said. “They said the smell was so bad that it made them nauseous. The next day, sewage built up and blew a manhole cover in (Owens’) front yard and sent stuff into the creek and into his house.”

Owens, who has lived at the residence 28 years, confirmed the incident and revealed photos he took.

“It spilled out two toilets and overflowed the sinks and the vanity,” he said. “I came in that morning about 5:30 and there was about 3 inches of water in the house. I have a roommate who is thinking about moving out because he can’t stand the smell.”

Lime laid down

Owens said DU sprinkled lime at the manhole and in various places in his yard.

“But look at all the shrubbery that the overflow killed,” he said. “I can’t grow anything in the yard anymore.”

Carr said DU was looking at the Vaughns’ property in relationship to future expansion needs.

“We’ve been in the process of trying to figure out the fair market value,” he said. “Any kind of talk that I have is subject to board approval and City Council approval. I guess it was this week I asked (Carolyn Vaughn) if they would consider $78,000 for the property, not $76,000. That’s kind of where we are now.

“My main point is that I can’t and the board can’t really buy property. We can’t make an offer and pay with Decatur Utilities funds. Ultimately, the city is the only entity that can buy or sell or own property.”

Kyle said that is what he tried to explain to Carolyn Vaughn, that “if the utilities board is not able to satisfy her, she could go to the council. It is the only body that can authorize the buying and selling of property, and it would take a ruling by a majority of the council.”

The Vaughns said they have not hired a lawyer and they’re willing “to work with DU on this. They need to offer us more money. They don’t need to try to steal it from us. They’re already getting a deal.”

Meanwhile, Owens said Ron Early, an insurance adjuster for DU, told him to find someone to refinish his wood floors.

“But all the wood is contaminated with chemicals and carcinogens,” Owens said.

“A lot of the plants along State Docks Road use the pumping station. This is the fifth or sixth time over a 10-year period sewage has come into my house. I’ve invested my life in it. Now, I can’t sell it.”

Owens said his lawyer, Zack Higgs of Higgs and Emerson in Huntsville, this week filed suit against DU.

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