NASHVILLE -- A Hamilton County commissioner is urging Tennessee lawmakers to have a "balanced discussion" when considering a bill brought by two local legislators that allows permitting septic tank waste systems for residential construction in areas where there are sewer connection moratoriums.
In his letter to the Senate Energy Agricultural & Natural Resources Committee members, Commissioner Tim Boyd wrote "we all need to make sure there is a balanced discussion about this issue as it relates to developing areas having marginal soil perk conditions, and the developers asking for ever increasing density levels for residential construction."
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, have introduced a bill at the request of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga. Association members are worried about the impact of the moratorium on new sewer hookups for property owners and developers in fast-growing areas of Ooltewah.
At at the direction of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the county's Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority in November imposed the moratorium in parts of eastern Hamilton County. TDEC officials' reason was WWTA's continuing problems with sewer overflows in the area. Between October 2017 and October 2018, there were 29 overflows, resulting in thousands of gallons of raw sewage flowing into Rogers Branch.
Gardenhire and Hazlewood's bill has stalled at this point due to a number of issues which they still hope to resolve. The legislation would apply statewide,
Having grown up in Hamilton County, Boyd said, "I know ... the hills of East Tennessee do not perk as well as the flat lands of West Tennessee. This adds to the tremendous rain water run-off we experience from extreme rain events that add to the problem of uncontrolled release of sewage from our sewer lines."
A septic tank system collects sewage and allows it to decompose through bacterial activity before draining by means of a leaching field. A percolation test, often called a "perc test," is used to determine the water absorption rate of soil in advance of building the leaching or septic drain or absorption field.
Boyd also cautioned that "in order to protect the health and safety of the citizens across our State, we must have strict regulations to review the permitting of developments having density levels for construction of single family beyond levels safe for the use of septic systems."
He said density levels above 3 homes per acre "are a potential real problem in Hamilton County," noting, "certainly there should be even stricter regulations for permitting any multi-family units.
"We must also consider the issue of having developments construct sewer lines and laterals in place for when moratoriums are eventually lifted even if the development is permitted for the use of septic systems," Boyd added.
The commissioner also wrote, "I trust all stakeholders will be given adequate time to debate this issue."
Tennessee members of the Sierra Club have raised similar concerns about septic tank issues. Gardenhire and Hazlewood, who are now working with TDEC officials and others, say their intent is not to waive current state septic tank requirements.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.