A group of Ooltewah property owners is fighting the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority and may even take the agency to court to stop it from using eminent domain to build a sewer.
“I think it’s a personal vendetta against me,” said Dr. Joseph Sentef, who owns some of the property involved. “What kind of organization is this?”
Dr. Sentef has accused authority board Chairman Henry Hoss of having a conflict of interest in the case.
Mr. Hoss worked about 12 years ago as the accountant for the Physicians Care chain of clinics, which Dr. Sentef once owned. Mr. Hoss was terminated from that position, Dr. Sentef said.
In response to Dr. Sentef’s accusations, Mr. Hoss did not vote Wednesday when board members chose to go forward with eminent domain proceedings.
To use eminent domain, the authority will have an assessment of the property’s value done, then pay that amount to the owners. The assessment already is taking place.
Dr. Sentef’s wife, Susan Sentef, said it is highly likely that she and her husband will challenge that decision in court.
The authority plans to use land owned by the Sentefs, as well as land owned by Bill and Janet Coughlin, and John and Linda Woodall, for an easement to build a sewer line. The land currently is undeveloped, but Dr. Sentef said he was planning to build a house there for his son.
The new sewer line would serve the Seven Lakes subdivision owned by developer Emerson Russell, which has led the Sentefs and Coughlins to accuse the authority of using eminent domain to help a contractor.
But authority Executive Director Cleveland Grimes said that’s not the case.
“We make the developer design to serve the area,” he said.
According to state law, government agencies can use eminent domain for projects that serve a “public purpose.” Mr. Grimes said the sewer line, which could provide future sewer access to adjoining areas, does that.
The authority has used eminent domain before, but does not do so frequently, Mr. Grimes said. In general, the authority and the property owners come to an agreement before it is necessary, he said.
The authority’s vote denied a request from Mr. Coughlin to delay invoking eminent domain for about a month, so that Mr. Russell and the property owners could meet.
Mike Price, an engineer who works with Mr. Russell and spoke on his behalf, said the developer offered to meet with the group a month ago. Mr. Price urged the board to move forward, saying the easement would not prevent anyone from building on the property.
Likewise, Mr. Price said the line could be shifted to another area of the property if necessary.
Still, the Sentefs simply don’t want it. Mrs. Sentef has asked why the authority couldn’t build a pumping station near the development rather than going through her property.
“How can you in good conscience take somebody’s property who doesn’t want to be disturbed?” she asked.
Authority board member Wayne Hamill said the board will consider the possibility of a pumping station.