After the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority wrote letters to about 3,000 residents asking for easements to allow the WWTA to repair residents' lateral sewage lines, many people questioned the process.
The Times Free Press asked Cleveland Grimes, executive director at WWTA, for answers to some readers' questions.
Q: I live in Soddy-Daisy and received one of those easement letters, yet we don't have sewer lines at all. Our entire subdivision is on septic tank systems. So my question is, why are we being asked to provide this easement?
A: The easement requests were mail merged using the Geological Information System. There will be some overlapping where residents received letters requesting an easement that do not have access to the public sewer. There is a difference between access and available. There are residents who have sewer availability and have chosen not to connect to the public sewer system and are on septic tanks. There is state law that says if public sewer is available, the resident should connect their home to the sewer system.
When it is determined that a public sewer system is not available, the resident is asked to write that on the easement document and return it to our office in the self-addressed envelope included in the mailing -- for tracking and so our staff will know that no follow up mailing will be required. The same procedure also applied when residents that are served by a low pressure grinder pump sewer system (LPS) and received the easement request from the mail merge. These residents are also asked to write on the easement document that they were served by a LPS and return it to our office in the self-addressed envelope included in the mailing.
Q: What happens if present homeowners sign easements now, and sell before any work starts? Are the new owners automatically required to honor previous easements on the property or can they refuse?
A: The WWTA will have the easements recorded in the Register of Deeds office. A title search should reflect the easement.
The easements are to evaluate the pipe, digital map the location of the pipe, repair or replace the pipe when necessary and test the pipe. The easements give the Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority the right of access to the property, to accomplish meeting the goals of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation requirements to remove inflow and infiltration of water from sewer pipes that contribute to sewer overflows and prevent sewage from leaking into the ground from cracked pipes.
Q: If the easements are needed to take control of the pipe, shouldn't the WWTA pay the homeowner for the pipe and all the expenses they incurred to get the sewer hooked up?
A: If Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority paid the homeowner for the pipe and all the expenses the homeowner had incurred in order to get the sewer connected to the public sewer system, this cost would have to be passed to the homeowner as an access fee, which is similar to what other utilities do when they bring a service to the resident. The homeowner would still have a user fee as with any other utility. The WWTA is a nonprofit utility organization that provides sewer service. The cost of maintenance and operation is funded by fees generated for providing sewer service. The WWTA regulatory requirements fall under the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act and state of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. There is no advantage to the WWTA to control/own the service lateral pipes other than to meet the mandates of EPA and TDEC that the complete sewer system, public and private, be maintained and kept up to standards to prevent overflows and water pollution.
Q: Are you planning to tie or combine the present water system with the sewer system, with new fees based on water usage in and waste water out to determine bills?
A: Water systems and sewer systems are run by separate entities. Sewer billing is based on water consumption data provided by the water system. The Service Lateral Program will not transition neighborhoods from septic tanks to WWTA pipes. The SLP will address existing sewer lateral pipes.
Q: How are storm drains in the new areas going to be handled? That seems to be part of the problem when sewer systems are overwhelmed by storm runoff.
A: Stormwater runoff is a major concern for the sewer system. The goal of the SLP and the requirements of Environmental Protection Agency and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation are to eliminate stormwater inflow and infiltration from the private side of the sewer system.
During the evaluation of the service laterals pipes, illicit connections of storm drains, yard drains, roof drains and any other sources of water that are not sewage will be addressed. If it is determined that a cleanout cap is being removed from the service lateral during rain events to drain property, these must be addressed.
EPA and TDEC agree that stormwater is a major contributor to sewer overflows. To address the stormwater issue the public sewer system and the private sewer service lateral must be addressed. For every mile of public sewer there is about a mile of private service lateral that also must be tested and rehabbed when necessary to reduce and/or eliminate inflow and infiltration of storm water.
Q: The article said the repair is estimated to cost between $3,000 and $4,000. Is this cost based on the number of current sewer system homes now, or is this a blanket fee that considers all customers, regardless of their septic waste systems now?
A: These reported costs are average costs for laterals that have been repaired or replaced. The costs are based on completed current sewer system lateral projects that have been located and evaluated, repaired or replaced and inspected. The inspection involves a closed-circuit TV being placed into the lateral recording its condition. The lateral is then air tested, and finally located with a Geological Position System and mapped into the Geological Information System and placed in the work order system.
Q: Several years ago, Hamilton County went before the state Legislature and asked that everyone in Hamilton County be taxed with the sewer tax even if it wasn't available in their area. What is that money being used for?
A: The Hamilton County WWTA is unaware of any state legislation for Hamilton County that would allow a sewer tax when a public sewer system is not available in the area. The WWTA has not received any money from areas where a public sewer system is not available.