published Friday, March 8th, 2013

Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority prepares to control sewers, stormwater

Water authority

• Carl Bruce Case, a member of AGC of East Tennessee, elected chairman

• Phil Ball, a member of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, elected vice chairman

• Maria Noel, a staffer from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, elected secretary-treasurer.

• Mark Blazek of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, elected chair of the governance committee

• Don Moon of the Home Builders Association of Chattanooga, elected chair of the legal committee

Two days after Chattanoogans elected a new mayor, a new agency created by the outgoing mayor began taking steps to take control of part of City Hall.

The Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority met for the first time Thursday to elect officers, adopt their bylaws and prepare to take control of the city sewer and stormwater programs. But at their introductory session, the 5-member panel appointed to run the water authority agreed it will probably take until next January -- or perhaps as late as July 2014 -- before the new authority gains ownership of the city's water facilities and begins setting sewer rates and water quality fees in Chattanooga.

"As we get our feet wetter and wetter, we'll be able to move forward more quickly," said Carl Bruce Case of Construction Consultants, who was elected chairman of the new water authority.

For the rest of this year, the water authority board will work with city staff and a consulting firm, MWH & Associates, to hire staff, establish policies and adopt a budget for dealing with sanitary sewage and stormwater runoff throughout the region.

The city's Department of Public Works now operates sewer and stormwater programs with a staff of 262 city employees. But the Chattanooga City Council, at the urging of Mayor Ron Littlefied, voted 7-1 in January to turn over water operations to the new 5-member authority.

The water authority is patterned after the Electric Power Board and the Chattanooga Airport Authority, independent agencies the city created in the past to run its electric system and airport at Lovell Field.

Littlefield said he spoke this week with Mayor-elect Andy Berke about the new water authority, which Berke conceded he didn't know a lot about.

"He (Berke) said he wasn't that familiar with dealing with water and sewers and most of us are not," Littlefield told the water authority. "But it's an absolutely essential part of our infrastructure and I think we're starting something here today that will be a great benefit to the continued growth of Chattanooga and Hamilton County."

The water authority will take over the city's Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant and other sanitary and stormwater runoff operations. Littlefield hopes the authority could expand its jurisdiction outside of the city limits and eventually to also include water delivery service.

The water authority will be funded by more than $66 million a year collected in sewer fees on water bills and water quality charges on property tax notices. Those fees are now set by the City Council and are set to rise on sewer rates for all Chattanoogans again in April and for all nonresidential buildings when property tax bills are mailed out this fall.

Future rate increases, which will be set by the new water authority, are likely to continue as the city tries to comply with cleanup requirements agreed to in a $250 million settlement last year with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The water authority agreed to regularly meet on the second Wednesday of each month at 2 p.m., except this month when it will meet at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20 at the Chattanooga Design Resource Center.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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