Water authority ready to begin operations

Water authority ready to begin operations

February 26th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

WATER AUTHORITY

Created: City Council voted 7-1 in January to establish the Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority

Assets: $304 million of pipes, sewers and the value of the Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant

Staff: 262 employees who previously worked for the city's public works department

Revenues: $68 million last year

Operating costs: $52 million

Authorized debt: $130 million, including $72 million outstanding

Governing board: Phil Ball, Mark Blazek, Bruce Case, Don Moon and Maria Noel

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield on Monday signed the documents to create a new water authority he said should help Chattanooga comply with costly new federal regulations for sewer and stormwater runoff.

"I know of nothing that is more important than settling this issue," Littlefield told the five members appointed to oversee the new Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority during an information luncheon Monday at City Hall.

"Clean water is of everyone's concern and the cost of clean water is going to have to be paid broadly by our community," he said.

Littlefield said the new authority, which will be activated this week with the filing of legal papers with the Tennessee secretary of state, will be able to independently set sewer rates and policies and could bring a more regional approach to sewer and stormwater issues than having such operations run out of City Hall. The authority will take over a $68 million-a-year sewer service that runs the city's Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant and handles stormwater runoff and sewage service throughout Chattanooga.

Eventually, such an authority also could take on water service and sewage treatment outside the city, if other water utilities or agencies agree to merge with the new Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority. Littlefield, whose term as mayor ends in April, said his successor and the new water authority board will have to decide whether to try to combine or take over identities such as the local water utility districts, the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority or even the privately-owned Tennessee-American Water.

"Chattanooga is at the bottom of the bowl and we are forced to deal with what flows into our city," Littlefield said. "This new authority is intended to do for water what EPB has done for the distribution of electricity and fiber optics in our region."

The new water authority is organized similar to the Electric Power Board, which the city created in the 1930s to distribute TVA-generated electricity, and the Chattanooga Airport Authority, which was created in the 1980s to run Lovell Field.

"These authorities have worked very well and brought a more business like and regional approach to these services," Littlefield said.

The Chattanooga City Council in January voted 7-1, with Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd voting no and Deborah Scott not voting, to establish the new water authority. The five-member governing board was selected by area business groups and includes Phil Ball from the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, Mark Blazek of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, Bruce Case from Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee, Don Moon of the Home Builders Association of Chattanooga, and Maria Noel of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Chattanooga City Attorney Mike McMahan said the city is seeking state legislation to help the new authority. But the water board will still become active this week once papers are filed with the Tennessee Secretary of State.

The water authority inherits 262 city employees and more than $300 million of pipes, sewers and treatment facilities. But the authority also must work to comply with consent orders to improve the way stormwater runoff is handled and how sewer and stormwater lines are combined in many parts of the city. The federal mandates are projected to cost the city $250 million over the next 16 years and are likely to force sewer rates much higher.

To guide in the transition to the new water authority, the city has contracted to pay $100,000 to MWH Americas Inc., to aid the new board and to help comply with Environmental Protection Agency mandates.