THE STORY SO FAR
In June 2007 state regulators placed a moratorium on Signal Mountain sewer hookups until the system’s regular overflows to the Tennessee River can be stopped. The move, effectively halting all but small development, is slowing growth on the mountain despite the opening of a new high school there.
WATER & WASTEWATER TREATMENT AUTHORITY
Created — 1993
Mission — Provide reliable, low-cost sewer service within service area to promote economic development, eliminate health problems and protect the environment
Countywide customers — About 25,762 residences and businesses in the following areas:
* Soddy-Daisy — 1,159
* Red Bank — 5,281
* East Ridge — 10,918
* Ridgeside — 158
* Lakesite — 77
* Signal Mountain — 1,169
* Lookout Mountain — 840
* Walden — 35
* Unincorporated area — 5,585
* Georgia — 540
Source: Hamilton County WWTA
Utility officials say they are working to repair the aging Signal Mountain sewer system so it can connect to the Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant by mid-2009.
But regulators say a sewer hookup moratorium will stay in place until the connection is complete.
“The moratorium is still in place and will remain in place until Signal Mountain is connected to the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant,” said Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which placed the town under the moratorium in June 2007 after repeated efforts to get the city to comply with its water pollution permit.
The 2007 moratorium effectively halts all but small development and is slowing growth on the mountain despite high demand for homes there after the opening of a new high school, officials said.
Signal Mountain’s sewage treatment plant, built in 1971 and expanded in 1988, cannot handle the sewage that flows through it during storms, and the overflows run to the Tennessee River. An $8 countywide fee to pay for the system’s repair and connection to Moccasin Bend recently began showing up on customers’ bills from the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.
But Cleveland Grimes, manager of the WWTA, which took over the operation of Signal Mountain sewers and the treatment plant in 2003, said the authority hopes state officials will ease the moratorium before that.
“There’s a difference between fixing the system and lifting the moratorium,” he said, explaining that authority officials hope TDEC will lift the hold on sewer hookups once officials there are reassured that programs are in place to reduce leaks and there is an agreement with Moccasin Bend for a connection.
“We are hoping by the middle of next year to have the programs in place to get that agreement,” Mr. Grimes said. He said the connection would take at least another 18 months.
With many residential and street gutters running into the largely antiquated sewerage lines, officials have said that as much as 1 1/2 inches of rain can cause sewage and stormwater runoff to mechanically bypass the treatment plant and run into the Tennessee River.
TDEC officials have said the plant, which is permitted to handle 400,000 gallons of sewage a day, has such bypasses about 50 days a year.
Mr. Grimes said leaky private and public sewer lines must be fixed before the Signal system can be tied to the larger system.
Work to fix the sewer lines on the mountain is continuing, he said Tuesday, but the fixes are not quick ones.
“It takes time,” Mr. Grimes said of the inspection and repair process.
Signal Mountain town manager Honna Rogers said she expects to talk with Mr. Grimes this week for a complete update of the treatment authority’s effort, but she said the moratorium has not stopped growth on the mountain, which with a new high school continues to attract many families looking to buy new homes.
“We have a subdivision proposed now for Shackleford Ridge Road with 27 lots, all to be built with septic tanks,” she said, noting that not even the fizzling real estate market has slowed interest in mountain homes.
Among more than 3,000 homes within the town limits of Signal Mountain, about a third are connected to the sewer system, officials said. The rest are on septic tanks, something environmental and county officials had hoped to change with the creation of the WWTA in 1993.
The wastewater treatment authority is charged with extending sewer lines throughout the county to eliminate pollution from septic tanks and antiquated sewer lines.
Authority officials said they had spent $2.9 million on Signal Mountain sewer fixes between 2003 and the time the 2007 moratorium was set in place.
Since that time, WWTA officials said, the utility has spent about $3.1 million to extend a sewer line to the new mountain high school and another $1 million on the most recent repair work.
The utility also faces state fines for pollution problems and sewage repair delays, but payment of the fines is on hold pending an appeal by the authority, according to TDEC’s Ms. Lockhart.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...