published Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

WWTA sues City of East Ridge

East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble Tim Gobble and WWTA attorney Chris Clem
East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble Tim Gobble and WWTA attorney Chris Clem

East Ridge's sewer line wars just got messier.

Hamilton County's water authority sued the city Thursday, claiming East Ridge breached its contract with the utility by enforcing a new series of fees.

In May, East Ridge began imposing a $200 fee every time the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Authority cuts into city roads to repair sewer lines.

Before this year, East Ridge had never imposed the fee. Nor had any other municipality served by the WWTA -- including Red Bank, Signal Mountain and Soddy-Daisy.

The WWTA lawsuit claims the fees violate the original interlocal agreement the two parties made in 2001, when East Ridge signed its sewer operations over to the WWTA.

The contract granted the WWTA "all property interests of the city, including sewer easements, and rights of access and use in all city [rights of way] as may be necessary for the purposes herein."

At the time the contract was written, East Ridge City Attorney John Anderson was the attorney for the WWTA. It is not yet clear whether it will be considered a conflict of interest for Anderson to defend the city in the suit.

As of Monday afternoon, City Manager Tim Gobble said city officials had not yet been served the lawsuit and declined to comment.

The WWTA is facing mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation that it claims will require it to make 5,000 street cut fees in upcoming years.

That could amount to up to a $2 million burden WWTA attorney Chris Clem has claimed would have to be passed on to other county customers.

After the WWTA learned of the fees, it entered discussions about the possibility of a specially assessed rate increase in East Ridge to help pay for street fees. At that point, East Ridge councilmen considered forming their own sewer authority but later voted down the proposal.

Though the WWTA repairs the section of roads it cuts into, city leaders have argued that the upcoming street cuts will cause permanent damage to the roads, and that the fee is necessary to recoup from damages.

The suit requests damages equal to each $200 fee that has been paid, along with an injunction to stop the fees from being levied and a judgment that finds that the street cut fees are in violation of the two parties' agreement.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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