We think that Moccasin Bend is the next big thing for Chattanooga.
Visitors to the future national park land at Moccasin Bend could be greeted by millions of gallons of sewer storage, and park advocates worry the facility's proximity to what they believe will be one of the area's best outdoor spaces could hinder the project.
The city of Chattanooga is taking initial steps to build a sewer storage facility directly across from the planned visitors center for the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District. The city and National Park Service are expected to use the area as part of a hub of outdoor activity in Chattanooga that will feature trails, a canoe and kayak ramp, and green space along the northern bank of the Tennessee River. A visitors center on Hamm Road will serve as the entrance to the area.
But the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park say the sewage facility could be an eyesore and directly compete with the city's goal to improve the green space in the heart of Chattanooga and preserve the historic land.
"This project would severely damage the development of the National Park experience on Moccasin Bend," Michael Wurzel, executive director of Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park, wrote in a statement.
City officials don't believe they have a better option.
The project is another step by Chattanooga to comply with a federal mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency and others to improve the city's sewer system.
Phase one of two for the EPA's consent decree — an agreement between the federal government and the city to stop overflows of raw sewage into the Tennessee River — is underway and will cost an estimated $250 million to $300 million, said Michael Patrick, director of the wastewater treatment system.
Preliminary plans for the multimillion-dollar storage facility include a new pumping station, millions of gallons of storage and site upgrades for additional storage. The facility would feature a diversion structure to direct water, an odor control system, and other improvements.
The plan is in its initial stages, Patrick said, but it will likely begin with a 10 million-gallon storage tank. The city eventually could add two more tanks for 30 million total gallons of storage.
The maximum size of a 10 million-gallon storage tank is 50 feet tall with a maximum diameter of 200 feet, Patrick said, but he believes these tanks will be smaller.
One of the biggest complaints in the EPA's consent decree is overflow from sewer lines surrounding and running through the Hamm Road properties.
"This will actually improve the situation," Patrick said. "That overflow that occurs goes directly into the river, so we want for that not to happen. That's not a water feature we like."
The end point for the Tennessee Riverwalk has been planned for Moccasin Bend since the Riverwalk's inception in the 1980s, Wurzel said. The city officially adopted the Gateway Plan for the North Shore Parks District in 2012 to make that a reality.
The plan includes a Riverwalk expansion to Moccasin Bend, additional signage and street improvements. The expanded walk would lead to the Gateway Site — the future location of the visitor center — that would connect existing trails in the area and further incorporate hundreds of acres of existing public land.
"We think that Moccasin Bend is the next big thing for Chattanooga," Wurzel said. "It has incredible open space, amazing opportunity for outdoor recreation and amazing opportunities for education in learning about our Native American and Civil War history here."
A long-term land management plan is scheduled to be released in the coming weeks to detail the future of the area.
The city's North Shore Public Spaces Plan previously outlined the importance of visual quality for its success, and the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park worry the proposed sewer storage facility could hinder that vision.
Wurzel and Reggie Tiller, with the National Park Service, said they hope the city can build the facility in a tasteful and aesthetically pleasing way and added they understand the tough situation the city faces.
"Our hope and goal is to be a good neighbor and help the community have the resources they need," Tiller said. "That would not be ideal for where a visitor center is to go, but I know the city is dealing with some issues related to the EPA. "
Patrick said the city is willing to do its part to make sure the facility is not an eyesore.
"We don't want people driving through there and all they see is tanks," Patrick said.
The city plans to keep the tanks at the back of the property, away from park land, and paint them to blend with the surroundings, he said. It will also look at planting trees to help hide the tanks.
But he has to be mindful of the cost, Patrick added.
Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park offered several other options, but they could be expensive. They included an addendum to hire a landscape architect to consult on the project, a request to locate the tanks underground and a proposal to build the tanks at the existing Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The city considered that suggestion, Patrick said, but decided that property is needed for future expansion.
Moving the tanks underground would increase costs from roughly $2 per gallon to $4 per gallon, Patrick said, and even the aesthetic additions the city is willing to do come at a cost.
Both sides say they will look for ways to cooperate on the issue.
"We all have a stake in the area, but we have to find the best ways to work together," Tiller said.