Updated at 9:28 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.
If tar and feathers had been available, an angry and raucous crowd may have used them on the folks who tried to sell them on the idea of a sewage plant in their neighborhood Thursday night.
It was the first of several public meetings to be held by the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, which has chosen a site at 7800 Mahan Gap Road as the most cost-efficient location for a 10-million-gallon, $45 million treatment plant that would open up the north end of the county for development and reduce demands on Chattanooga's Moccasin Bend plant.
Hundreds of people packed into the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department training center and a large overflow crowd listened on speakers set up outside as WWTA Executive Director Mark Harrison and engineer David Kiefer made their pitch: The general area has been identified as the best location since an EPA study in 1971; the topology would require the least amount of land grading, and it would be able to make maximum use of gravity rather than expensive electric pumps to collect and treat waste and return clean water to the Tennessee River.
In addition, they said, Chattanooga is under a consent decree and expected growth in the north end of the county demands more sewer capacity, either by paying to expand Moccasin Bend or building a stand-alone, WWTA-owned plant.
The crowd was having none of it. They shouted, booed and yelled questions and criticism until County Commissioner Chester Bankston, who represents the area and opposes the location, shut down the presentation and opened the floor for questions.
Opponents landed blow after blow against the WWTA and the proposed plant:
"You're wasting our time!"
"They've already made up their minds!"
"Just tell us it's a done deal because we know it is!"
"You've ignored us, you've left us to be trampled on!"
Homeowners grilled the two over property values and health concerns, and several suggested, to boos and catcalls, that the sewage plant idea was being driven by Chattanooga developers looking for future profits.
The applause was huge when, answering one questioner, Harrison said the chairman of WWTA's board, Mike Moon, is a developer. Moon said in the county commission last week that he has no property options in the affected area.
Another woman told Harrison and Kiefer, "I want both of you to step up to the mic and say, in front of God and all these people, whether you'd live next to the treatment plant with your family."
Several yelled out in favor of putting the plant either near the former Chattanooga landfill at Birchwood or near the Enterprise South industrial park where Volkswagen has an assembly plant.
Kiefer said either of those locations would be far more costly, requiring a lot of grading for the plant and significant pumping capacity to cross a ridge. But a speaker said all WWTA's ratepayers would share in that cost, "not borne on [the] shoulders of the people in this community [who] have purchased a home."
Homeowner Dave Burger practically promised a lawsuit over the expected loss of property values caused by the plant, and when one man in the audience added, "I pledge $10,000 for litigation," he was cheered and echoed.
Jeff Teter, a nurse, said the plant should go to the north of the potential development area, not the south.
"Don't you guys have any new ideas since 1971? Seriously? Everybody knows you're going to pump. Build it there so when they develop that property, people know and they have a choice."
More meetings are set for Oct. 28 and Nov. 8, with locations and times to be announced.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.