Sewage spill makes Bogue Chitto unsafe; River business concerned about local economic hit

Published 7:42 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Over the weekend, state officials announced that a levee breach near a Mississippi sewage treatment facility led to millions of gallons of sewage flowing into the Bogue Chitto River.

Residents are urged to stay away from the river until further notice.

According to a press release from the Louisiana Department of Health, the accident happened on Friday as “a levee breach at the City of Brookhaven’s sewage plant released approximately six million gallons of stormwater-diluted sewage to the East Branch of the Bogue Chitto River.”

On Saturday, when Louisiana authorities got word of the breech, state authorities urged all residents to stay out of the river. The river flows through Washington Parish and it is a popular destination for fishermen and water recreation.

Tony Mizell, the owner of Bogue Chitto Tubing, said he was shocked when he heard about the spill. Mizell explained that late summer weekends are peak seasons for families hoping to capitalize on the remaining warm days of the year, and that on good weekends, he can bring in between $6,000 and $10,000. This past weekend was set to be one of those weekends, until he got a news alert late Saturday.

“Saturday we had a great day, and then that afternoon we heard the news,” he said.

By late afternoon, everyone was out of the river and on Sunday, all was quiet at his rental shop on Choctaw Road. Monday, he was alone.

“My help’s not making any money,” he said, explaining that on most Mondays the river is full of restaurant employees who have worked all weekend.

The sewage was expected to reach Washington Parish on Sunday, although by Monday state authorities were still unclear of how much sewage might be in the river.

Louisiana State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said Monday morning testing had not yet begun, but he expects the worst of the crisis to be over in a matter of days. In the meantime, he recommends everyone steer clear of the river.

“It’s probably not wise to go swimming,” he said. “But we’ll be monitoring it and when we see the numbers, we’ll know more.”

Guidry explained that the increase in sewage bacteria would be most harmful to anyone who has a compromised immune system, anyone who ingests the water or anyone who has any kind of an open wound.

“It’s going to have more bacteria so if they swallow the water or if their immune system is compromised or if they have an open wound, then they’re going to have an increased risk of infection,” he said.

Mizell said he understands the risk and he fully intends to keep his business closed until the state gives the all clear, but the spill is costing him.

“Everybody’s trying to get some last trips in before it gets cold, and I had busloads of people I had to turn away Sunday because we couldn’t risk letting them in the water,” he said. Mizell also rents cabins nearby and said they’re now empty, as well.

“Even Berry Creek cabins had a lot of bookings, and the only reason people book them is to go tubing and so they had to cancel,” he said.

Mizell said he loves operating the river company, and he prides himself on running the oldest tubing business in the parish. For 30 years, he and his family have been renting tubes, kayaks and canoes. But now, and for the next several days, they’re waiting.

“I’m not going to take a chance until they tell us we can open back up again,” he said.