Officials: New Harrison sewage plant a better deal than upgrading North Ooltewah system

Mark Harrison, executive director of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA), sits in his office Tuesday and looks over a draft study of the proposed new WWTA sewage treatment plant.

An estimated price tag of $45 million to $48 million might sound like a lot for a new sewage treatment plant in Harrison.

Or not - if you figure the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority will have to spend about $43 million, anyway.

That's the estimated cost - if a new WWTA sewage plant isn't built - to add storage tanks and make other upgrades to the authority's existing system in North Ooltewah along with fees WWTA would have to pay over the next 20 years to use the city of Chattanooga's Moccasin Bend treatment plant.

Those are some arguments for a new sewage plant made by county Mayor Jim Coppinger and WWTA Executive Director Mark Harrison.

"The [new plant's] immediate impact would meet the projected need for an additional 10,000 homes by year 2021," Coppinger said Tuesday morning on the steps of the county courthouse downtown, as part of an announcement of a proposed package of spending on sewage treatment, schools and a new jail to be bankrolled by maintaining the current county millage rate.

Interviewed Tuesday afternoon in his office, Harrison said that a new regional sewage treatment plant that discharges into the Tennessee River north of Harrison Bay State Park would get nearby residences and businesses off septic systems, which is the main source of sewage treatment north of Collegedale to Summer Haven.

He acknowledged that no one wants a sewage treatment plant in their backyard.

"We're going to look near the landfill. That will help with that," Harrison said. "We haven't zeroed in on a piece of property, yet."

Birchwood Landfill is a way away from the river, but effluent from the new sewage treatment plant still could be piped from there into the middle of the Tennessee River.

"We do have to discharge in the river," Harrison said. "We don't have to [locate the plant] right there."

WWTA's new sewage plant would be about 15 miles upstream of where Tennessee American Water pumps water into its treatment plant that's used as the drinking water for Chattanooga and other area communities.

But Harrison said that won't be an issue because WWTA would treat the sewage effluent to safe levels as required by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"Our discharge just will be a drop in the bucket," he added.

Mayor Coppinger said another benefit would be to assist the treatment authority and city of Chattanooga in meeting federal EPA mandates for stormwater runoff and sewage disposal.

WWTA's board a few months ago approved to have a draft study of the sewage treatment plant done by S&ME, a geotechnical engineering firm with offices in about a dozen states, including two offices in Chattanooga. The draft report isn't ready to be released, Harrison said.

The new sewage treatment plant wouldn't increase rates in and of itself, Harrison said, since it's a break-even proposition if you factor in the needed upgrades. But WWTA has many other pressing needs for upgrades and repairs that will likely result in rate increases, he said.

If the county commission approves Coppinger's plan to maintain the millage rate and issue the 30-year bonds for the new sewage plant, WWTA hopes to get the new sewage treatment plant up and running in three to five years.

"We're going to push hard," Harrison said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or www.face or on Twitter @meetfor business or 423-757-6651.