Reasons To Choose Another Sewer Treatment Plant Site

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Hamilton County Commission is being asked to make a tough decision when it comes to the location of the WWTA WWTP. On one side, you have a handful of people who are pro WWTP at Mahan Gap because they want to develop northern Hamilton County and on the other hand, you have residents who want to protect the largest investment that they've made, i.e., their home and their ability to enjoy the environment around them. You heard both sides of this argument on Dec. 12. I did not get up and speak at that meeting. However, I would ask that you read my email as I have a different perspective on all of this. Please, please be patient with the length of what I have to say. Please. 

I am a retired mechanical engineer who worked for TVA, Martin Marietta, and as a facility engineer for Denso Manufacturing in Maryville, Tn. I was a court appointed research agent for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District. My expertise was problem solving difficult engineering issues and research. 

When I thought to buy my lot nine years ago, I went to the county to check the plat for any encroachments since I am 800 feet to the east of Savannah Bay. There were none. So, imagine my surprise when I find out a year after moving in that my house was built across the TVA 690 line. My developer, knowing that he had to get a deed modification to build there, built the house anyway. And I'm not the only one this happened to. After contacting TVA about this, I was told that I would have to send in an application with a $5,000 fee. The developer was no longer responsible as I owned the property. And this was the good part...if my house was encroaching, I would have to remove it or they would remove it for me. I lived in terror for the next two years thinking that I would come home to find my house torn down and my pets killed in the process. In the future, a new owner of my home will have to apply for the Deed Modification and TVA can deny it. Under that condition, who is going to buy my house? 

I went back to the county and asked why wasn't this noted on my plat. In addition, I found out that the back of my property was a state protected wetland. Also not on the plat.  The county building and inspection and other agencies told me that those items weren't "required" to be added to the plat. I was outraged. Why weren't they required? The county which should have protected me did just the opposite. I was disheartened. Where was the oversight? If I could be fooled, many more could, too. 

Then I found that because the land was so low, my footers were in the water table and there was three feet of water standing under my concrete slab. My house was issued a Certificate of Occupancy with a major inspection missing. It was soon revealed that one of the inspectors was on the take and was fired. The lady responsible for issuing the COs was reassigned to another department. The building and inspection Director, Pay Payne, retired shortly after I brought all of this to his attention. Once again, the county which should have protected me did not. I lost all confidence in the county offices. I grew up here. I love this place. But this was disturbing. A taxpayer should not be harmed by the irresponsibility of their county agencies. 

Needless to say, the value of my home is now far less than others that surround me. I've had numerous mold issues. I have to run a sump to drain the water out from under my slab. I'm 64 years old and disabled. I've spent thousands of dollars trying to fix this $150,000 house. I'm out of money and energy. This sewer plant on Mahan Gap will be the last straw. My health issues will not allow me to continue to live here so I will have to sell my house at a huge loss and move on. The county will have, effectively, bankrupted me and left me destitute. Just a little oversight on some of the offices of the county would have prevented this. Who will be doing the oversight on the WWTA? Who is going to protect these homeowners? 

You are probably wondering what this has to do with the WWTA and the choice of location for this sewer treatment plant. Well, it is this...nine years ago, if Hamilton County had just required a little more detail from the developers, I wouldn't have been stuck with this home that bankrupted me.  I am asking today that the Hamilton County Commission does its absolute best to protect other homeowners and to not just think in terms of future development. That development is not the best solution if a homeowner must go through what I've been through. All of that aside, I have the following points to make.

After listening to both sides of the presentation, I have a few comments to make both from a professional standpoint and a homeowner. And, yes, for Mr. Boyd's benefit, I believe that there are points here that have not been made before which Mr. Boyd would not know since he left the meeting just before the residents' presentation. 

Vested Interest Groups and Future Costs - Mr. Boyd's supporters, the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors and the Homebuilders Association, both urged that this plant go forward ASAP at this location. Consider this, in August of this year, Mark Harrison said that the plant was going in near the landfill in Birchwood and a only a month later in September had announced a new location. If the WWTA could find a site that quickly...in less than a month...then they can find another site as evidenced by their own presentation. A month or two is not going to make that big of a difference. The plus side...and this is important...of finding another site away from Savannah Bay is that the WWTA and the county will not have to spend near as much money to get approvals from TVA, TDEC, and the EPA or other agencies for a plant near a protected wetland nor will the TVA 690 line be involved. The Section 26a permit from TVA is very expensive. I've been through this. This will also save money over time as now the county will not have to worry about fines and superfund sites when the destruction of the bay occurs. That last should get your attention. The SSOs into Rogers Branch and ensuing fines on WWTA by TDEC is just a forerunner of things that will come.

WWTA Fees to Ratepayers - Mark Harrison stated that the WWTA fees have "really not increased" in the last few years. Not true. My minimum sewer rate has increased from $10/month in 2012 to $22/month this year. They are regularly increasing our rates and will continue to do so no matter what.

Sludge Trucks on Mahan Gap - Mr. Harrison stated that there will be only one sludge truck per week. This is not factual. Each 400 gallons of wastewater...what a typical family uses a day, generates about one gallon a sludge per day. If the WWTP is going to handle 10 million gallons/day (mgd) then that has the potential to generate 12.5 tons of waste per day. The largest truck that can haul solids is 31 tons so a truck would be leaving the facility at a minimum of every two days. But once that plant gets bumped up to 20 mgd as planned, at least one truck per day will have to travel the winding, narrow no shoulder Mahan Gap Road with school children and all of the other traffic. Mahan Gap Road is a busy road. And, we are just talking a sludge truck. There will be other trucks making deliveries of the chemicals used to treat the waste water. A better route for this would be along Highway 58. In one report that I've read for establishing a site and building a wastewater treatment plant, the number one criteria was “Wastewater treatment facilities should be separate from habitation or any area likely to be built up within a reasonable future period and shall be separated in accordance with state and local requirements.” (Recommended Standards for Wastewater Facilities, 2004, a 10 state guideline.) This guideline goes on to state: "Protection of groundwater including public and private wells is of utmost importance. Demonstration that protection will be provided must be included." The site that the WWTA is proposing meets neither of those guidelines.

Downtown Issues - Mr. Harrison stated that Moccasin Bend is near downtown Chattanooga and there are no problems. You only need to do a rudimentary internet search to find many articles referencing the foul odor in Chattanooga from sewage. Again, Mr. Harrison is not being factual.

Elevation - Mr. Harrison and Mr. McDonald have stated over and over the need for this location due to "gravity flow." I have checked the elevations north of this site on Ooltewah-Georgetown Road and Highway 58 and they vary less than 100 feet...often just 20-30 feet in elevation above the Mahan Gap site but most remain at the elevation of the current proposed site. This is not significant. Mr. Moon himself said at the Dec. 12 meeting, "We can meet the consent decree without a wastewater treatment plant." He agreed that if they could afford it, they would put it in Meigs County...which is an excellent idea considering the growth in that area thus making a chance for WWTA to bring in income by processing other area wastewater. Just the growth that is going to occur along Highway 60 from Dayton should be enough to sway anyone with any hesitation about relocating the WWTP from the proposed site.

Purchasing Homes Near Proposed Site - Mr. Harrison came up with a new tactic at the Dec. 12 commission meeting. He stated that he has talked to five homeowners with property located near the proposed site and plans to speak to four more. His wish is to buy those home and resell them to people who don't care if they live near a sewer treatment plant. I admire his optimism. I researched the nine properties that surround the Mahan Gap site and taking the assessed values from the Hamilton County Property Assessor site, the total minimum expense to buy these homes would be $3,798,200. That is nearly $4 million of the $20 million needed to locate the WWTP further away from these homes. Now we are talking a $16 million difference for a new location. When you factor in potential lawsuits allowed by Tennessee's Inverse Condemnation law and cost to the county for cleanup of this site or recreation lost because of contamination of Wolftever Creek and Harrison Bay, that $15 million suddenly becomes a very small price to pay.

TVA Issues - The deed to the property has stipulations for use since a majority of the property is below the TVA flood storage line also known as the 690 line. Despite what Mr. McDonald claims...that the 690 is really the 691...TVA will hold him to the 690 line. While permission via a Deed Modification can be acquired, TVA maintains the right at any time to rescind that permission if the conditions are violated. And Section 26a permits are extraordinarily expensive. I know. I've been there and done that.

Migratory Birds - Savannah Bay is home to numerous important species of migratory birds including ospreys, Sandhill Cranes, and other water and forest birds. We have had many rare birds in the area. This wastewater treatment plant will have a negative impact on them.

In conclusion, I know that this was lengthy and you may not have read it all but I hope that you did. All of us in opposition to the current site agree that the county could use another wastewater treatment plant but we are all unanimous is believing that a much better location could be found and utilized. When Mr. Harrison became too emotional to continue in the commission meeting the other day, we all understood. That room full of people that you saw from your seats have shed many tears over this proposal.

Debra L Fisher
President, Georgetown Place HOA


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