You may have read, heard on local media, or seen the signs placed in prominent places as you are about to leave your subdivisions, that the Wastewater Treatment Authority is planning to locate a 157-acre sewage plant literally in the backyard of many subdivisions in north Ooltewah. For those individuals who may not know, a building moratorium is in place in Ooltewah because irresponsible developers want to continue building at least four homes per acre, as well as large condominiums (development group from Nashville).
Of course, it is not feasible to put septic tanks in such small pieces of real estate and they take no notice of how congested our two-lane road system is because of all this development. Their plan is to continue buying all the green space all the way up Ooltewah/Georgetown Road far north of town. Consequently, this means that the taxpayers of Hamilton County will shoulder the expense of what is now estimated to be a $45 million site plus $200 million for updates to the present sewage system. WWTA claims that it will be the rate payers who will pay for this, which is a veiled truth. However, you need to know that you and I are already responsible to pay for the decision made by our Hamilton County mayor and commissioners for agreeing to purchase bonds at cheaper rates for WWTA so they could even afford to proceed with the purchase of this site.
And in case you have not heard this, the proposed sewage site is just “stage one.” The WWTA expects to expand this site, and before you know it, Ooltewah will have the “delightful” recognition of being the host of a growing sewage plant (Moccasin Bend Jr.) Oh yes, we will be taking care of all the sewage from all the local communities surrounding Ooltewah. Even more ludicrous, this particular site is based on plans that were drawn up in 1971 - long before all the subdivisions and housing that now exists in Ooltewah were even thought of.
A recent raw sewage spill, just this past weekend (October 27-28, 2018) occurred when a WWTA sewage pump failed, spewing raw sewage over a portion of the golf course associated with Hampton Creek subdivision on Snow Hill Road right here in Ooltewah. This is the 29th spill, called an SSO – Sanitary Sewage Overflow, that the WWTA has had in the Ooltewah basin, from October 2017 to the present. And even further, we have just learned that WWTA was just required by the state of Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation on Nov. 1, 2018, to enact a self-imposed moratorium for the Ooltewah basin. Even more, they are to place signage signifying where these 29 discharge places have been, warning residents that it is unsafe. As of this writing, this has not been done.
It has been estimated that approximately 5,000 people live within a three-mile radius of this site and, if you think it will not smell, you are wrong. My husband and I lived within three miles of a similar brand new sewage facility before we retired. It looked nice and was landscaped with care, but it did smell. Waste located at sewage plants produces a natural by-product of anaerobic digestion. This gas is hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which gives off a strong, nauseating smell. Due to its low solubility in wastewater, it is released into the atmosphere, producing terrible offensive odors. It is especially offensive during the summer months when the weather is hot and families want to enjoy outdoor barbecuing and family events. So the claim that it will not smell is absurd. There is an investment firm on the Internet called Boglehead.org. The CEO, Jim Bogel, strongly recommends people who are investing in homes not to purchase property anywhere near sewage plants due to the odor they produce. So is anyone thinking about what this site will do to the property value of our homes?
In light of the fact that WWTA cannot even maintain their present equipment to stop these spills, can you imagine the health risks that will accompany this proposed plant. Even more, within approximately one mile of the proposed site, two Hamilton County public schools are located - Snow Hill Elementary and Hamilton County High School. All you need to do is a search on Google and you will discover just how many raw sewage spills have occurred in the U.S. in just 2018. Raw sewage spills are not the exception, especially with WWTA’s track record. It happens all the time for various reasons, from equipment malfunctions, power outages, and especially significant rain events. Does it matter that they are placing this plant in a location that already floods every time we get two inches of rain?
So what are the effects of raw sewage spilling out onto our roadways, creeks and waterways? According to the EPA, seven million people a year suffer from illnesses caused by raw sewage exposure. Seven percent of these individuals become severely or even fatally ill from the following organisms: 1) viruses [Norwalk, Rotavirus, Hepatitis A, Adenovirus, Poliomylitis, Enterovirus.], 2) bacteria [Camylobacter, Listeria, E coli, Leptospira, Salmonella, Shigella], and 3) parasites [Cyptosporidum parvum, Giardia intestinalitis]. And in case you missed this news, Atlanta’s Channel 11 reported that independent researchers have linked the Enterovirus, mentioned above, to the mysterious illness hitting children all over the U.S. with polio-like symptoms. And to think, sewage plants across the U.S. are giving the effluence from these sewage plants to be injected into the ground of agricultural fields that grow our produce.
So let’s be honest. Is this what you want to expose your children to, whether at school, in our neighborhoods, or in the surrounding waterways? WWTA states that they capture “most” known contaminates. Just do a little reading and you will see that it is well documented that it is impossible to do this. The medicines that we excrete, the pharmaceuticals used for animals and humans that are flushed, the industrial waste, and anything that happens to float down the sewer pipes, all end up at local sewage plants. All of these contaminants are widely found in waterways and are called biofilm - bacteria slime layers that contain all kinds of microorganisms that stick to the rocks, docks, bottom of boats, etc.
And finally, we live in an area where people from all over the country visit for vacations using our waterways. This sewage site proposal sits on Long Savannah Creek, which flows into Savannah Bay (about ½ a mile away), travels down Wolftever Creek, and eventually into the Chickamauga Lake and the Tennessee River water system. Savannah Bay is known as a migration habitat for the Sandhill Cranes, and hundreds of other migratory birds, not to mention that these waterways are regularly fished. What will raw sewage spillage mean to the ecosystem of this area? The ramifications are frightening. It is well documented that large water systems can be negatively affected becoming overloaded with nitrogen and phosphorus which cause uncontrolled algae blooms (aka Eutrophication). This can be harmful to water ecosystems as a whole, a bottom up issue involving entire food chains.
All of these waterways being mentioned are where your families and visiting tourists regularly fish, swim and boat. Is this the kind of contamination that you want your families to be dealing with? Chickamauga Lake is ranked the #2 spot in the entire U.S. for bass fishing. That’s quite an honor, but do you want your tournaments to be canceled, do you want signs all up and down these waterways warning that this water is not safe for swimming, fishing, or boating? Events are canceled often, just like Chattanooga’s Ironman swimming competition was this year, for these very reasons.
So, I say to the WWTA Board, all developers involved, the Hamilton County Planning Board and all the commissioners, go ahead and build your sewage plant. Just don’t build it here on this location. Find another suitable location away from large populated areas where people will have a choice whether they want to live next to such a place and where the ecological impact will not be so great. This zoning needs to be denied. This site is nothing more than an attempt to put an industrial site that regularly uses chemicals right in the midst of a highly populated area. Come on, people. You can do better than this. Development is moving north and it makes no ethical sense to build this thing in the middle of an already developed area. What were you thinking? Oh, I know. Water runs down hill. Really? Is this the only place that water runs down hill? I would hope that we have elected officials who have the moral character, the courage and the wisdom to truly see what is occurring here. Certainly you can come up with a place more suitable.
In closing, let me remind all the commissioners, those who are elected to protect the constituents who they represent, if you allow this ridiculous situation to continue and approve this “special permit” that is nothing less than the arbitrary and capricious nature of “spot zoning,” which by the way, makes it illegal, this large voting bloc of people will see you again next time in the voting booth.
And to the residents of Ooltewah, I say this. Thank you so much to those who have put such tremendous effort into trying to make the public aware of what is occurring and please do not stop. To those who are just becoming aware of this situation, please join us in this effort. It is imperative that as many people as possible attend the meetings listed below.
Meetings: Central High School, Nov. 8, 5:30-7 p.m.
Planning Committee Nov. 12, 1 p.m., 625 Georgia Ave. - 4th floor Chattanooga
County Zoning Committee Dec. 12 (same as above) Full County Commission Meeting on Dec. 19 (Same as above)
Shelley A. Betts
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Thank you, Shelley, for your well-researched and informative article.
I, too, am worried about this proposed project but what is the alternative? What is Plan B? or C?
I think the public should be informed of the other possibilities and how much research has been done exploring the feasibility of these?