A year after Chattanooga was awash in a contentious battle over higher stormwater fees, many of the key combatants in last year's water war united Tuesday in a pioneering program to help change the way building is done in the Scenic City.
If successful, participants in the new partnership between business and government say Chattanooga's experiment could be a model for improving water runoff from new construction projects across Tennessee.
The city of Chattanooga on Tuesday presented a check for $50,000 to an industry group organized by the Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee for worker training and computer monitoring of how water runoff is handled on building sites in the region.
Known as the Tennessee Stormwater Excellence Program, the initiative is designed to educate and coordinate engineers, builders and regulators in building approaches that help limit pollution from water running off parking lots and buildings following heavy rains.
"It's a huge step forward to have the industry develop and adopt management tools for a construction site to minimize any impacts on streams," said Paul Sloan, the deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. "So often when a problem with water releases occurs on a construction site the response time is too slow and the injury is just intensified."
Sloan, who is stepping down as one of the state's top environmental regulators next month, approached AGC in Chattanooga nearly four years ago to explore how business and regulators could work together to better design buildings and avoid stormwater runoff during construction.
Chattanooga is paying AGC $50,000 to develop the training and software as part of a $384,500 penalty that TDEC imposed on the city for repeated violations of its previous stormwater permit.
A new stormwater permit was adopted in December for Chattanooga requiring additional steps to limit stormwater runoff into area creeks and streams.
Roger Tuder, executive director for AGC in Chattanooga, said the industry "wants to do what we can to ensure we have clean water" and is working to develop better development plans, worker training and regulatory oversight.
"We recognize we need to do better and we think this program, for those contractors who participate, offers the opportunity to ensure better compliance [with federal stormwater rules] and better coordination among all of the parties," Tuder said.
Sloan said he hopes the program is successful and similar initiatives are launched by industry and government across the state.
"Stormwater runoff is a problem in many communities, and I'm very excited about what Chattanooga is doing here," he said.
Reducing the overflow from city sewers into area creeks and storms led the city last year to triple the stormwater fees on homes and businesses. Although many contractors complained that the higher fees will discourage building in Chattanooga, Sloan said environmental improvement and business development "go hand in hand."