The date that Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority will officially request a sewer connection to the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant is near.
That means the town of Signal Mountain is that much closer to ending an ongoing sewer moratorium that severely limits the number of new sewer connections allowed.
"That's not something we can do until we're done with the moratorium," said Town Manager Honna Rogers in regards to a new sewer line out Shackleford Ridge now under logistical analysis by the town.
She said preliminary discussions with WWTA about helping fund such a project are ongoing, but no formal request has been made. WWTA sometimes covers 40 percent of design and construction costs in areas where the Health Department has identified septic failures.
"There may or may not be enough failed septic tanks to meet that rule," said WWTA chief engineer Mark Harrison, adding that any such decision is ultimately in the hands of the WWTA board.
Gary Pickett, head of the environmental division of the Hamilton County Health Department, said Hidden Brook used to be a big source of septic tank failures, but "we don't really get that many complaints for Shackleford Ridge." That's because there aren't that many houses there, and the existing ones are located on large acreage tracts, he said.
Should the WWTA board decide to share in the cost of extending sewer to the ridge, that would really only pertain to the front end of funding for what is estimated to be a several-million-dollar project. WWTA's portion would ultimately be passed onto Signal Mountain customers, following its universal funding model.
"In principle, basically our philosophy is we need to provide sewer to the county, but we don't need to put the cost of development onto the rate," Harrison explained. "We try to find ways to help but we ... don't want to put the cost of extending sewer to the rest of the mountain on other WWTA existing customers."
Some possibilities include preemptively raising rates for Signal Mountain customers to cover the cost, or WWTA taking out a loan and then recouping that money through higher rates on Signal, he said.
"None of that has been discussed yet," said Harrison. "From my perspective, it comes down to whether the city of Chattanooga would allow us to connect [to Moccasin Bend] or not."
With designs for that connection nearly complete, he said he anticipates a formal discussion between the city of Chattanooga and WWTA officials sometime in March. Preliminary talks have referenced countywide inflow and infiltration issues that will have to be addressed before any connection is made, said Harrison, but specific requirements will hinge on formal negotiation of the connection.
"The expectation is we will be able to connect, but we don't know exactly what the criteria is we will have to meet," he said. "[Inflow and infiltration] has been specifically addressed but no one has actually said you need to get the I and I from 20 to 10, or 30 to 6.
"Even after we get permission and find out what the terms are and meet all the terms and go through the [construction] bid process and all that, it's at least a year before the town of Signal Mountain can connect to Moccasin Bend," he added in reference to the estimated connection construction time.
Rogers estimates construction time for a new line out Shackleford Ridge at two to three years.
"I'd be interested to see when they [WWTA] think they would be able to put their 40 percent up," she said.