EPA Fines Are Proof Office Of Internal Audit Should Be Independent

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It was a major blow to the taxpaying citizens of Chattanooga to learn of the over $250 million fine imposed by the EPA over our poorly functioning combined sewer system. This huge fine also demonstrates why the office of Internal Audit should be independent and not under the control of the mayor's office. 

In 2001 the city of Chattanooga entered into a major expansion and updating of the Moccasin Bend Waste Water Treatment Plant. Treatment capacity was to be greatly expanded with the addition of new secondary clarifiers and chlorine contact tanks for effluent disinfection, new digesters, equalazation basins, and a new " state of the art " $22 million filter press to produce a Class A land applicable sewage sludge product. A new relief pump station was built along with new offices and storm water treatment facilities. A $16 million oxygen production plant and UNOX secondary treament system was also constructed along with pumps and related equipment.  

After completion of the project and " signing off " problems soon began.  Some concrete structures soon collapsed and severe cracking was discovered in other structures. Repairing these structures required adding thickness to the walls resulting in hundreds of thousands of gallons in lost treatment capacity. The filter press never functioned and was soon mothballed. The new digesters did not work and tax payers are now spending $70,000 a month in natural gas bills to run the digesters that in the past made enough methane gas on their own to operate.  

Over $1 million in electrical and instrumentation equipment was charged to the tax payers and never installed. In June 2007 I contacted Mr. Stan Sewell, director of Internal Audit about these problems and cover up by the management and directors at the Moccasin Bend Waste Water Treament Plant and Public Works officials. A full audit was performed and I worked closely with Mr. Sewell and his staff. Needless to say this was a real career booster for me.  I was not to be intimidated. Mr. Sewell and myself filmed the plant superintendent sadly trying to show him new electrical and instrumentation equipment that was never installed.  

The full audit report was issued to Mayor Littlefield on Dec. 21, 2007. The total was a shocking $45 million in missing and misappropriated funds.  I was at a mutual friend of mine and the mayor's at a Christmas party in late December 2007. I asked the mayor what he intended to do about this mess. His reply was "these guys are my friends."  No punitive action was taken against any director or management employee. No legal action was taken against any employee, company or director.  

The filter press was later retro-fitted to produce a so called Class B product that  can only be applied to animal forage crops. Two independant laboratories found chlorine residuals at over 800 ppm in the land applied sludge making it unsuitable for any land applicable use.   

The city of Chattanooga and City Council continue to award millions of dollars in contracts to these same engineering companies. These companies will be doing all engineering work on any future projects. The city has recently hired employees from these companies and they are currently employed at the Moccasin Bend Waste Water Treatment Plant. 

During the original Blue Ribbon storm water hearings Bill Raines, who was chairman ask the Public Works deputy director what he intended to do with the just awarded $9 million he was just given, he said, "Sir, I don't know."   

This information is on the city of Chattanooga website under Internal Audit- Audit # 07-01 dated Dec. 21, 2007. Please vote yes on Aug. 2 to make the office of Internal Audit indepenent from the mayor's control. By doing so we can put a stop to these good old boy policies and economic insanity.  

Guy Satterfield

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