published Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke ditches cleanwater authority


by Cliff Hightower

A six-month venture into a regional water and sewer authority came to an abrupt halt Tuesday when Chattanooga Mayor Andy eliminated it.

The city will look at creating entities that have strong partnerships and a focus on long-term success to deal with critical water issues, he said.

"Unfortunately, after a comprehensive review, we found that the authority does not meet this threshold test," Berke said in a news release Tuesday afternoon.

Former Mayor Ron Littlefield, with support from the former City Council, created the authority in the waning days of his administration. He combined the city's stormwater and sewer divisions.

Littlefield could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In making his case for creation of the authority, Littlefield had said he envisioned other sewer and water utilities, such as the Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Authority, Eastside Utility District and Tennessee American Water, joining the authority.

But none of the other utilities expressed much interest in joining authority.

Don Moon, a board member for the authority, said looking at sewer and water services from a regional perspective has merit.

"It's their prerogative," he said about Berke's decision to pull the plug on the authority.

In the news release, Berke said he would continue to explore other ways to address water and wastewater issues the city faces.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said county officials had reservations about the authority.

"The county was hesitant of this particular initiative from the beginning," he said. "But done correctly, a partnership to address these needs would be an important asset to our region."

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@times freepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/ cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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