Ooltewah Has Lost Confidence In The WWTA - And Response

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The residents of the North Ooltewah neighborhoods are very concerned about the WWTA proposing to build a new sewage treatment plant on Mahan Gap Road. This location is one of 10 potential sites and is in our back yards and for 1,000 homes it is within a mile of their homes. We were here first and for many they have settled here for many years on their family property and/or retirement homes. The proposed site is not currently zoned for industrial use; however the WWTA is attempting to obtain a special exemption from the Planning Commission on November 12 so they can build a plant in an existing wetlands area and in the 100-year flood plain.


The WWTA has performed a very cursory conceptual design review and rough economic analysis (back of an envelope type study were the WWTA description). They have only shared a few pieces of information that supports the site selection at Mahan Gap.

WWTA says the Mahan Gap site costs of the plant would be somewhat lower than for the other plants sites. It is difficult to understand how the analysis can really determine what the cost difference is when (1) the design has not been defined (2) the detailed engineering review was a “Table Top” review without a site visit and their cost estimates for conceptual designs are typically + or – 25% at best. So without more detailed analysis how can WWTA establish the best location?

There were supposedly 10 total sites reviewed, but they have only shared two others. The impacts on for the other sites have less impact on residents and much less risk to the environment in case of accidents and spills at a new plant.  A copy of the Consulting Engineers report has been requested but not produced yet. The residents have asked to be involved in the analysis similar to other communities recently where a mutual site location was found by working together. WWTA has declined to allow any of us to be involved.

We have been told in public meetings that no consideration was given to the impacts on property values for the 1,000 residential homes near the proposed site. When the consultant was questioned about this he said if we could produce a study then they would look at it. Why is it the resident’s responsibility to produce a report on property value impacts? Why it is that WWTA does not consider the impacts to residential property values, quality of life for the local residents and the protection of the environment as important enough to be included in the analysis?

The to the answer the questions about WWTA not permitting the residents involvement in the process and  their lack of empathy or compassion for us can be observed by the way WWTA treats their existing customers and the environment.

The WWTA has been criticized for many years for the uncaring attitude they have for their existing customers. The WWTA is misguided in their beliefs that the only thing their customers care about is lower cost. Their customers also care about being easy to work with, having input in the policies and procedures the WWTA imposes on contractors and customers and the environmental impacts from WWTA poor performance.

The residents of North Ooltewah do not want sewage treatment plant in our back yard because we have lost all confidence in the WWTA to build a plant that will not intrude on our lives with “Stink”, “noise”, traffic impacts, hazardous materials in the air and in our waterways. The proof is in the data:

The WWTA has had 29 (TDEC) reportable spills in the Ooltewah area alone during late 2017 thru Sept. 2018. The causes for the spills were initially identified as heavy rain fall infiltrating the sewage piping. The data does not support that conclusion since most of the spills were in the dryer fall periods as can be seen in the included charts. Eventually the WWTA has identified the recent higher frequency of spills is due to the repeat pump failures from pluggage from “Improper materials” being flushed by their customers. When are they going to address the real causes and stop blaming their customers?

The inability of the WWTA to resolve the overflows in the Ooltewah area is just a clear indication they are not capable of managing their existing system.  If the system is older and worn out, why is that the customers fault? WWTA is an autonomous organization that has been given the responsibility for providing sewer service. They have been in charge of this service for many years and have allowed it to deteriorate to the point it is difficult to maintain. So stop placing the responsibility on the customer you are supposed to serve, and start accepting the responsibility for the system and the failures.  Maybe you should include the customers in resolving problems and consider treating people with some respect, empathy and compassion and I believe your job will be much easier.

The following was written Mike Moon Chairman of the Board WWTA:

“Our mission of providing reliable, courteous and low-cost sewer service is one we take seriously. We’ve been working for several years with the EPA as well as TDEC and others on a comprehensive plan to address the issues surrounding bypasses that occur during significant weather events at the Signal Mountain Treatment Plant.  We self-report these instances to the appropriate agencies. This particular plant is handicapped by size as well as geography, but infiltration and inflow from the collection system is the real issue. We will continue to do all we can to address these issues while minimizing the effect on the customers we serve.

"If the intent of the lawsuit is to bring attention to the issue, we applaud the action to raise awareness.  However, if the intent is for a financial settlement for the Riverkeepers, we find this counterproductive to fixing the problem and it would place an undue burden on our rate payers.  We will always vigorously fight to minimize the cost to our customers from such actions.”

The spills are the problem and the costs are a result of the spills that violate the current permits. Every other industry must comply with the EPA regulations to keep the waters clean, why is WWTA exempt? Again here is another example of the WWTA leadership blaming a lawsuit expense as the cause for increased customer bills? WWTA failure to have developed a long term strategy before now has caused the issues and expenses. It has become obvious to me that the only way to get the attention of the WWTA, commissioners, RPC and the public is to file suit, not for the financial gain but to get the right peoples attention.

Based on this statement it appears WWTA feels they are exonerate by self reporting their own spills? The fact that they have spilled over 1,100,000 gals of sewage in 29 spills in Ooltewah is the issue here. This is unacceptable.

The excuse is again “not our fault” that the system is too small. So if you have been in charge, why did you not act before it is a liability to the environment? We are fearful that this same attitude will prevail when a new plant is built and it stinks, spills sewage on our property and affects our property values. How can we trust an organization like this with our futures?

Ooltewah residents have suffered enough – put the sewage place in a safer place.

Donald G. Johnson

* * *

A failed pump was blamed for the sewage spill on Snow Hill Road. These sewage pump stations (technically called “Duplex Pump Stations”) always have two pumps each capable of pumping the full incoming load of the station.

As a contractor I in installed and maintained numerous sewage pump stations. The only reason a pump failure would cause a spill would be because the other pump wasn't working either.

I'm always hesitant to trust the solution to the ones who brought us the problem.


Steve Campbell 

McDonald, Tn.

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