Casey Hall, Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Facility's plant operation manager, left, and Jerry Stewart, the City of Chattanooga's director of Waste Resources, explain how water is filtered and treated while looking down into a screening conveyor at the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Facility in this file photo.Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
NASHVILLE — Local officials say they will use a $6 million low-interest loan, approved Wednesday by the state, to begin Year 1 of a multiyear effort to fix Hamilton County’s wastewater problems.
“It must be used to comply basically with EPA mandates and TDEC [state] mandates,” said Chris Clem, an attorney for the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority. “The main mandate is that we must test all 26,000 users’ service laterals.”
The service lateral lines connect the authority’s main lines, located in streets, to residences and businesses. If testing shows they are not up to par and are contributing to infiltration and inflow problems, they must be repaired or replaced.
In the first year, officials are planning on testing some 3,000 laterals and begin making necessary repairs or replacements of lines contributing to sanitary sewer overflow problems that during heavy storms can send raw sewage flowing into the Tennessee River, officials said.
The issue has helped get the county into hot water with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. More heavily populated cities, including Chattanooga, as well as several counties across the state have similar problems.
Clem and WWTA Executive Director Cleveland Grimes said the moves are necessary under a “voluntary” agreement the authority struck with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment.
While that kept the EPA from marching into court, the authority must abide by its plan.
Earlier Wednesday, the Tennessee Local Development Authority unanimously approved the $6 million clean-water State Revolving Fund low-interest loan, allowing the authority to put the testing and repair work out for bid by later this month, Grimes said.
The project will be funded with a 20-year, $4.8 million loan at an interest rate of 1.54 percent. The remaining $1.2 million of the $6 million loan is covered by an EPA principal forgiveness program, state and local officials said. The maximum annual amount to service the bonds is estimated at nearly $243,000.
According to a document accompanying the local authority’s loan request, the first year’s work will begin on Signal Mountain and in East Ridge, Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy. Not all the work in these areas will be completed in Year 1.
Other areas needing work include Lookout Mountain, Lakesite and unincorporated areas of Hamilton County served by the water and wastewater authority.
The entire project is expected to take seven to eight years, Grimes said. He said about 1,000 of the service lateral lines have been tested, repaired or replaced under a pilot project.
Clem said officials anticipate future low-interest state loans will be necessary to test and deal with any problems in the remainder of the lines. Problems should be relatively few in newer homes and subdivisions but officials are expecting problems in older developments.
“Six million dollars is going to be way short of what’s necessary to make these repairs,” Clem said.
In order to get the loan, the authority had to agree to take ownership of the service lateral lines, now owned by homeowners and businesses. Authority officials were reluctant to do that, Clem and Grimes said, but state and federal officials insisted on it.
In the authority’s application, officials noted problems with service lateral lines “do not manifest themselves quickly” and the “vast majority of homeowners will do nothing until it is absolutely necessary” because of blocked lines.
In the meantime, the leaky lines may infiltrate surface water or leak raw sewage onto land. The bigger problem, according to Clem, are heavy rains. The lines can be infiltrated by water, causing overflow problems that can quadruple the average 100 million gallons used daily, sending raw sewage flowing into the Tennessee River, he said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...