By Andy Sher
NASHVILLE - While his legislation on regional and wastewater authorities is going nowhere at the state Capitol, outgoing Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said it won't affect the Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority, which he set up to take control of the city's sewer and stormwater programs.
"It is not abandoned. It's moving forward" locally, Littlefield said Tuesday. "We can do what we need to do right now with the law that exists."
As for the state legislation, Littlefield said "there was nothing in the bill that said anything about taking over any other utility. That seemed to be bothering some."
The mayor leaves office next month.
Patterned after the Electric Power Board, the new water authority will take over the city's Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant and other sanitary and stormwater runoff operations. The authority's board met last week for the first time.
On Monday, the sponsor of Littlefield's bill, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, referred the measure back to the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
He blamed opposition from the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.
"The WWTA, the wastewater authority, and everybody kept throwing up roadblocks and questions," Gardenhire said. "So Ron just said, 'Look, it's not that big of a deal. It's something I thought would help.' And he just asked me to go ahead and refer it back to committee and not to make a big deal of it."
Gardenhire said the legislation, which applied statewide, made local governments' participation in a regional water authority strictly voluntary.
"It didn't give them the authority to take over anybody," Gardenhire said. "Some people read to much into it and decided to fight it."
Littlefield said "rather than get into a complication in the Legislature, I just asked the sponsors to pull it back from the front burner."
The proposed state law was only intended to deal with future issues that "could" arise, the mayor said. He noted he believes that even without the legislation, other cities could join based on existing state law.
He said based in his conversations with county authority officials, "they said they were fine with it" after some initial concerns were addressed.
"I actually think, honestly, there was some concern by some people [the bill would] take over the Tennessee American Water Co.," Littlefield said of the investor-owned utility. "I honestly don't want to get into that fight."
The new city authority's board met last week for the first time with members saying it could take until January or mid-2014 before the authority gains ownership of the city's water facilities and begins setting sewer rates and water quality fees in Chattanooga.
Littlefield hopes the authority could expand its jurisdiction outside of the city limits and eventually to also include water delivery service.
But that issue will await the incoming mayor, Andy Berke, Littlefield said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.