A meeting held Thursday night by Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger was aimed at cooperation between residents opposed to a new sewage treatment plant that had been planned on Mahan Gap Road in Ooltewah and the WWTA. The mayor proposed hitting a “reset button” by creating a community committee that would work alongside the WWTA in finding the best location to build a new facility. The committee would have between five and seven community representatives.
Engineering consultant Scott McDonald, who was hired by the WWTA, was charged with finding the best site to put a new plant that could handle added capacity of sewer services created by recent and future growth in the area as well as additional water from runoff during periods of heavy rain. He came up with the same location that was identified in 1971 as the best place because “it drains like a bathtub,” said the mayor. The goal is to prevent building large, unsightly storage tanks that would hold raw sewage until capacity was available to treat it and pump it, said County Mayor Coppinger, “They’re not pretty or healthy for the community.” There will be a concerted effort to hide whatever is built and make it odorless, he said.
There have already been eight potential sites identified, including Mahan Gap. County Mayor Coppinger did not rule out the Mahan Gap location, saying that would be up to the committee. With the choices they will be given it is hoped that one can be agreed upon. To move the site, he said, would take extra money. "I can’t make that money happen, I can only request it," he told the audience. Any money has to be approved by the Hamilton County Commission. He said that changing the location would require an additional $16 million to $20 million because a different site would need to be bought. The option that the WWTA has for the Mahan Gap property will run out in March, he said.
Alternative plans recommended by various speakers Thursday night would limit future development. Plans such as making a developer responsible for building sewage treatment for individual subdivisions or allowing new construction to use septic systems would all require large amounts of property. A round of applause came after County Mayor Coppinger said that would be so costly that nothing would be developed. He acknowledged that the audience wanted no development whatsoever, but he said that is just growth and the government cannot control that.
Multiple citizens requested responsible growth saying the reason they live in Ooltewah is because of the large properties that allow open spaces. “We don’t want to become East Brainerd with houses on quarter acre lots,” said one speaker. County Mayor Coppinger said there is a regional plan for this area and suggested taking those concerns to the Regional Planning Agency. He said there are a number of agencies that control growth but the government cannot because they do not own the property. He said that cities can pass ordinances to regulate growth. He also said that plans developed by the WWTA must be approved by the EPA. But, he said, the EPA does not care about growth, just about health.