published Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Hamilton County Commission OKs contract for emission testing

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    Hamilton County Commissioners during a commission meeting in this file photo.
    Photo by Dan Henry
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Commissioners also:

• Voted to accept a $500,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to buy property to extend the Tennessee Riverpark project from Ross's Landing to St. Elmo Avenue.

• Voted to enter a $184,000 contract with the Tennessee Department of Transportation so Hamilton County Courts Community Services can have litter pickup programs on state highways.

• Accepted a $23,000 bid from Play and Park Structures for a pavilion to be built at a property owned by Chattanooga at Mayfair Avenue and South Sweetbriar.

Hamilton County commissioners say emission testing is a bitter pill everyone just has to swallow.

At least that was the take-away Wednesday during the County Commission's regular meeting.

Over opposition, commissioners voted 7-2 to renew a contract with the state to continue emission testing, which is required for vehicle registration in the county.

Emission testing in Hamilton County is part of an agreement county officials made with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Tennessee to mitigate perpetual air quality problems.

The county's current contract with the state, which oversees the testing facilities, expires June 30. Commissioners on Wednesday voted to renew that contract for another five years.

Commissioners Greg Beck and Warren Mackey were the two "no" votes. Both said the emissions testing requirement is a burden on poor residents.

Beck, who works as a court officer, said he sees the impacts daily.

"I have about seven or eight different reasons why I would vote against this contract, and the greatest one is because I watch old people, people on fixed income -- poor people -- come to my court because they can't get their car registered," Beck said.

The $10 it costs to pay for emissions isn't the burden, Beck says. It's the cost of having an older car taken to a mechanic to pass the test.

Commissioner Joe Graham, who voted for the contract, said he didn't like the hardship on underprivileged residents either, but if Hamilton County lost its air quality compliance it would be "devastating to our economic growth."

Bob Colby, director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Board, told commissioners during a May 6 budget hearing that if the county went out of compliance with EPA over air quality, the county would not be on the radar of any industry looking to relocate. Colby said development in that regard would stop.

Beck said that "regardless of the ramifications" he could not vote for the contract.

But there was good news for commissioners.

Starting July 1, 2014, the cost of testing to residents will decline to $9, instead of $10, and the county will pocket $1 from every test, instead of the 25 cents it gets now.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @glbrogdoniv.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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