An Open Letter Concerning The Proposed Ooltewah Waste Treatment Facility - And Response (2)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority and County Commissioner Tim Boyd want to build a sewage treatment plant in my backyard. I bought my house in Ooltewah in 1994, raised my children here and worked hard to pay it off. My home has been my small piece of the American Dream. Now, the WWTA and Commissioner Boyd want to reward my hard work by taking away about 20 percent of my home’s value by building a sewage plant that will process waste water that my home, like hundreds of others in the area, will not even use.

My house, like most in this area of Ooltewah until very recently, was developed on a septic system. I spend a lot of time outside in my backyard, mostly playing with my young grandchildren. So, in addition to the significant loss to my home’s value, this facility will also greatly diminish my quality of life by forcing me and my grandchildren indoors, away from its noxious scent.

Why build such a facility in an area where so many existing homes will not even use it? There’s only one answer and that is to allow more new and dense residential development. The WWTA wants to help developers make millions of dollars while taking away the value of existing homes in the area.

As you know, a person’s home is usually their single biggest financial asset. The whole plan is little more than a wealth transfer from hardworking taxpayers like me to these developers and their real estate agents.

Bluntly, the WWTA is not very good at what they do. In the Dec. 12 Commission hearing, the WWTA admitted that a pumping station a couple of miles down the street near the Hampton Creek golf course on Snow Hill Road has been grossly inadequate since 2008, illegally spilling millions of gallons of sewage for a decade. The WWTA stated that it did not want to burden ratepayers with fixing the facility; instead, the WWTA found it acceptable to put the health and safety of my community at risk. The WWTA still has no plan to correct it.

Further, the WWTA will soon receive a $200M+ consent decree from the Environmental Protection Agency ordering them to clean up their act. This only happens to agencies that are not good at their job. What will it cost for the WWTA to place the sewage plant draining into Savannah Bay ultimately be? Based on WWTA’s track record of frequent spills, Savannah Bay, a major recreational area surrounded by homes, and its adjacent wetlands will be contaminated. When this occurs, the WWTA may not be able to pay these cost so Hamilton County taxpayers ultimately will.

How can we trust an organization with this track record to manage this massive industrial waste facility nestled in the center of 3,500 residential homes? Why here? Why would the County Commission empower them to do this? If it costs a few million more dollars to move the facility further north to a less densely populated area, then the developers and real estate agents who will profit so handsomely from it should pay the difference.

The answer is clear: the WWTA is a captured government agency that does the bidding of well-connected, big-money residential developers and the real estate agents that sell their properties. They do not care about the impacts they have on existing homeowners or taxpayers; they are only interested in increasing the bottom line for their business buddies.

With the vote coming this Wednesday, we will learn if the County Commission, through campaign donations, has been captured too. Commissioners, do you serve the interests of the same well-connected few, instead of the many, like me, who have worked hard to secure our small piece of the American Dream?

Rusty Proffitt

Retired TVA engineer and longtime Ooltewah resident

* * * 

Dear Rusty, 

I read your letter twice. You have captured the most offensive aspects of the WWTA’s arrogance of power.

I keep reading about WWTA’s TDEC Agreed or Consent Order. So what, all wastewater treatment plants and collection systems are or have been under an order.  You will not find a wastewater plant in our region that does not possess a consent order. I challenge WWTA to provide a list of municipal waste water treatment plants that have not been under an Agreed or Consent Order. It will be a very short list, certain of this.

The Hamilton County WWTA is using this order as some sort of big crying towel for a pass to damage an entire area of land owners financially.

I don’t live in your area, but the following are irrefutable.

1) Wastewater expansion and need by all local governments is reactive, not proactive. WWTA’s failure to plan has become the surrounding land and homeowners emergency.  

Growth is not mandatory, it is optional, when growth is at the direct expense of others.

2) The new plant, if constructed will overflow given enough rainfall and infiltration and inflow into their collection system, and more development will ensure overflows. Don’t believe a word from the WWTA hired guns or staff.  Plant over flows will occur. I am reading so much ideal world plant operation. WWTA plant will overflow in time.

3) Surrounding properties will devalue in the market. Who wants a house downstream of wastewater plant discharges. Clean indeed. Plant efficiency will reduce during storm events.  

WWTA’s arrogance toward adverse impacts to existing property owner is outrageous. None of the property owners deserve to be financially harmed.

4). WWTA has failed miserably to include the public in alternative site analysis.  The site selected is too populated, and the receiving water completely inappropriate.

I am hopeful that opposition continues to hold your Hamilton County elected officials accountable.  Follow up is critical, to remove every elected yes vote.

Please don’t let government overreach ruin your holidays.

April Eidson 

* * *

Dear Rusty,

You are right in everything you say regarding the WWTA. I would like to add a few additional points.  

It is important to note that County Mayor Jim Coppinger appoints five of the executive board members to the WWTA and their votes count as one vote each.  The other seven members of the board (the members not appointed by Coppinger) have a 1/7th vote, meaning that if all seven vote unanimously their collective vote only counts the weight of one vote. This is a system that is begging for corruption. 

In other words, if you don't like the way the WWTA is doing things, County Mayor Coppinger is the man driving the bus.  He only needs four of his appointed board members to carry out his will and the rest of the board is powerless to change it. Think about that for a minute.  Only 1/3 of the board needs to want to do something such as put a sewage plant in the midst of established neighborhoods and it is a ‘done deal’ as far as the WWTA’s agenda is concerned. 

Fifty-five hundred people signed a petition in about 60 days to stop this proposed sewage plant.  County Mayor Coppinger, if inclined, could have certainly requested his appointed board members to find a better location.  The fact that the WWTA has shown no due diligence toward another location indicates County Mayor Coppinger is not concerned about the voices of nearly 6,000 people in Ooltewah. 

The track record of the WWTA is deplorable. One example, TDEC sent a memo in 2016 saying that the Snowhill pump station was too small and that it could not accommodate larger pumps and that if it was not replaced it would have overflows.  Mark Harrison (director of the WWTA) said in this memo that WWTA had money to repair this, but the budget hadn’t been appeoved.  WWTA knew for 2.5 years ahead of time that this pump station was going to overflow, they had the money to fix it, and they intentionally did nothing. Yet the people of Ooltewah are being portrayed as “not in my backyard” crybabies. WWTA will ruin Savannah Bay if the plant goes to Mahan Gap.  It's unfortunate that anyone who votes to allow this couldn’t be held liable when it happens, they have been warned of the risks.  This is like watching a slow motion train wreck about to happen.   

WWTA says that it would cost $20 million to locate this plant in a better location. What they don't tell you is that this would amount to approximately $3.50 per month for each WWTA paying customer. Or, they could simply adjust the rate on new hook-ups and cover the expense.  Not too hard.

It stands to reason that one of the reasons the WWTA might not want to locate this plant elsewhere is the fact that developers have already bought up the land around the area.  Putting the plant in one of the undeveloped regions would  bring the “stigma” with it that no one in their right mind would want.  This means that some developers might be left 'holding the bag'.  Putting this plant right next to existing neighborhoods forces the stigma on established neighborhoods leaving the developers land untarnished and ready for maximum development with no risk of the ‘stigma’ of being near a sewage plant.  

The people fighting for this location are composed of developers and realtors.  They spin it that it generates tax revenue for the county. That's music to the mayor's ears and it doesn’t hurt that it pads their pockets along the way.  None of these people live anywhere near the location and none would share in the fallout it will create.   Shouldn’t that be a red flag?  This is not the only place a plant could be located, yet it is being treated as if it is the last parcel of land on earth. If people could put their greed aside this would be a very simple solution.  Move the location where it does the least harm to the environment and existing landowners, and allow people the choice to build near a sewage treatment plant if they chose to.  That is the right thing to do. 

I am hoping that our commissioners will put aside their political motives, look at the real issues, and do the right thing.  This is not a hard decision.   

Shannon Betts


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