Residential Growth Is Needed, But Not At The Expense Of A Few

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The county commissioners will be faced with a difficult decision in a couple of weeks. They will be voting on the rezoning of the Mahan Gap Road property in Ooltewah so the WWTA can purchase the property and build a new sewage plant. A new plant is needed for future growth in the North Hamilton County region. The property rezoning was denied by the RPA based on an inadequate analysis of the site by the WWTA. The residents who own 3,500 homes within two miles of the site are asking the commissioners to deny the rezoning of this property based on the RPA recommendation and the negative impacts on their property, their quality of life and the high probably of environmental damage from a plant near the Heron Bay waterways. There are at least eight other feasible sites for the new plant, but WWTA has not performed an adequate evaluation of them. 

The issue here is not simply weighing the balance between the community's passionate opposition and the need to support continued economic growth in Hamilton County. It is finding the optimum location for a sewage plant that will provide the best opportunity for growth and not cause unintended injury to the public.

WWTA has a history of not being customer focused or showing any compassion for people or their customers. I hope the commissioners would not support placing a sewage treatment plant so close to a residential area and expose the Heron Bay waterways to any more sewage spills.  The WWTA has not improved their performance over the past few years, but it has deteriorated with significant environmental spills and contamination of personal property on Signal Mountain and in Ooltewah.
They continue to demonstrate they are not concerned about people in their effort to locate the sewage plant on Mahan Gap Road. They admitted that there was “no” consideration for the impacts to the local residents, and should be “no” impact on property values. That is a ridiculous assumption and we all know that is a way to avoid paying for the loss in property values. 

WWTA has refused to allow our input into the process when we offer to help find a better location and they consider us as “hostile”. We are passionately resisting the placement in our backyards based on the fact WWTA has demonstrated they are incapable of maintaining and operating a simple pump station just down the road from the proposed sewage plant location. This location has had 2,000,000 gallons of sewage spilled and now have damaged the 18th hole on the adjacent golf course due to a failed sewer line. That line is relatively new and should not be considered an age related failure as indicated by WWTA. 

The EPA is now forcing WWTA to develop a plan to prevent spills based on excessive spills and environmental damage. 

WWTA Chairman Moon said the authority doesn't have a choice about whether to fix the problem of sewer overflows that violate the federal Clean Water Act. But signing the consent decree will ensure it has a voice in how the problems are solved. 

We the residents of the group “North Hamilton County United for Responsible Growth” would also like to have a voice in the decision to not place a sewage plant in our backyards. 

The residents of the Mahan Gap area are not opposed to expansion of the sewage capability for the county, but feel the WWTA has not performed a detailed due diligence of the various sites available for a plant. They took the easiest approach and looked for a simple solution to a problem that has been facing them for at least four years. “Moon said WWTA has been negotiating with EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation since 2014" and "we're winding it up now." The WWTA has demonstrated they are a very slow reacting organization and are now faced with providing a plan to the EPA/TDEC to obtain a consent decree to avoid more serious action by the EPA. 

Their poor planning and slow actions should not constitute an emergency rush to judgment by selecting an easy fix that causes significant negative impacts on a group of people who are currently not even sewer system customers.  

One commissioner has been outspoken about how he has reviewed the plans and based on his own engineering experience he found the conceptual designs performed on the Mahan Gap site recommendation to be based on sound engineering analysis.  I am an engineer and have worked for a large engineering consultant.  I have participated in many conceptual design reviews for projects as well as performed many conceptual designs for clients myself. My assessment of the engineering analysis performed on the new sewage plant indicates that is has been a very cursory and a minimal effort by the WWTA and their consultants. Cost estimates in conceptual design phases are + or – 40 percent. It surprises me that the WWTA is using the $45 million estimate as a finite estimate.  It could be 40 percent higher and the gap between the other options could be much smaller. But then WWTA has not publicly shared any of the details from the design or cost estimates so it is difficult to determine the level of analysis and design that has been completed. However WWTA assures the residents that the plant will not be a nuisance or have any odor. 

The issue here is not simply weighing the balance between the community's passionate opposition and the need to support continued economic growth in Hamilton County. It is finding the optimum location for sewage plant that will provide the best opportunity for growth and not cause injury to the public.

We are asking the County Commissioners and the WWTA to please consider the residents in our area when reviewing the facts and cast your vote to not allow the plant on Mahan Gap Road, but rather to find a location with least amount impact on the families and the environment.

Don Johnson
Ooltewah


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