Chattanooga and the rest of Hamilton County could join Signal Mountain in its ongoing sewer moratorium.
Worried that the situation might relegate connecting the town of Signal Mountain to the Moccasin Bend sewage treatment facility to the back burner, local officials are looking for ways to speed up the process of the town's compliance.
"We need to be working more aggressively as a community toward solving our stormwater issue," Signal Mountain Town Councilman Dick Gee said. "It suggests that we are not willing just to let somebody do our work for us - we need to be involved."
Signal Mountain officials are meeting with representatives from the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority in the coming weeks to formulate a proactive plan and related time table.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently served Chattanooga and Hamilton County with a consent agreement that demands their sewer systems become compliant with its standards. Once the agreement is actually in place, the two governmental entities will have 37 months to become compliant.
Since it is mandated that the entire county reach compliancy within that time period or face high fines and possibly a moratorium, Signal Mountain should have been connected to the Moccasin Bend treatment facility by that time.
"There's no plan to bring the [Signal Mountain sewage] plant into compliance or to upgrade it," Gee said. "Everything ultimately will be hooked to Moccasin Bend."
But that treatment facility itself is part of the problem, leaking sewage into the Tennessee River, which is why Chattanooga and Hamilton County, which also use the plant, were put on notice.
For Signal Mountain, the effects of the moratorium are bigger than the related health concerns. Any newcomers who do not have a pre-existing connection to the town's sewer system and who wish to build a house or other facility must opt for a septic tank. The upkeep of these tanks rests on the property owner, and tanks that are not maintained pose the same threat to the environment as the sewage overflow issues already plaguing the groundwater and thus the Tennessee River.
"We don't have much soil [on the mountain] ... we have rock. When [waste] comes out of a septic system ... it hits those rocks and it just flows down to the stream," explained Town Manager Honna Rogers.
Gee said he hopes the consent agreement will act as a catalyst to encourage the town to protect Signal's surrounding environment, adding that he wishes the Town Council had adopted that mindset sooner.
"The reason we want to lift the moratorium is to stop polluting the river," he said. "The good thing is, when all this is done it will be fixed. The sad thing is we are being forced to do the right thing."