Chattanooga-area communities are clearing away the FOG — fats, oils and grease — from their sewer systems.
Jasper, Tenn., recently beefed up its regulations on how restaurants dispose of fats, oils and grease. New restaurants and some existing restaurants will need to install grease-trapping devices, sewage collection system operator Ray Moreland said.
"The state is pushing us to do it," Moreland said.
Fats, oils and grease can solidify and block municipal sewage systems.
Fort Oglethorpe Codes Enforcement Officer Jill Wynn remembers seeing that firsthand several years ago when sewers backed up in a neighborhood off Battlefield Parkway near a number of fast-food restaurants.
"It was full, completely full of grease," Wynn said. "It was hard as a rock. Stinked to high heaven. It was horrible."
Sewage overflows caused by such backups find their way into creeks, which typically results in a $1,000 fine against the city by the state.
Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Ron Goulart said restaurants' fats, oils and grease were the main offender behind sewer-line backups.
"That's probably the No. 1 killer, is grease," Goulart said.
Fort Oglethorpe restaurants were equipped with grease interceptors, underground storage tanks typically 1,000 to 1,500 gallons in size. But the interceptors weren't being cleaned out regularly and would overflow, city officials say.
So the city adopted a FOG ordinance in 2008 under which city employees regularly inspect grease interceptors and require restaurants to keep records showing that they've been cleaned out.
"We've never had to fine anyone," Wynn said.
Instead, the city's been able to keep restaurants in line by asking them to clean the traps, she said.
"The way we've handled it is [saying], 'This needs to be pumped immediately,'" she said.
Fort Oglethorpe's director of public works, Phil Parker, said the ordinance has helped reduce sewage backups.
"It has improved," he said. "We'll never get to perfect."
"If grease is something we can get a handle on, that's one less thing to cause us grief," Parker said.
Chattanooga adopted a FOG ordinance about six years ago, and now has two full-time employees whose job is to inspect grease interceptors and smaller, under-sink grease traps at some 1,200 food service facilities around the city, said sewage pretreatment supervisor Rick Tate.
"It has made a difference," Tate said. "I think most of the satellite communities have patterned their [FOG programs] after ours."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.