North Hamilton County residents fighting a proposed sewer treatment plant say the one county commissioner who has publicly supported it should recuse himself from Wednesday's vote.
The neighbors wrote in an email Sunday that Commissioner Tim Boyd has a conflict of interest. During a public hearing last week, Boyd said the consulting engineers working with the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority are top-notch and that he has used them on $45 million of his own engineering projects.
"We believe his relationship [with Raleigh, N.C.-based SM&E] is a conflict of interest," the email from Brent Smith with North Hamilton County United for Responsible Growth states.
It also says Boyd walked out of last week's hearing without listening to the neighbors' objections, and that his 8th District will "receive a disproportional share" of some $245 million the WWTA plans to spend on sewer rehabilitation projects.
"For North Hamilton County, this is the most important issue we've had since I've been around [and] the odds are stacked against us," Smith told the Times Free Press on Monday.
"Not to give it the full attention that it deserves, I think is unfortunate. All we're asking is a fair shake. I understand someone having an [opinion], but not to give someone the opportunity to convince you, I think it's bad policy and bad politics and bad governance."
Boyd bluntly rejected any conflict.
"That is so much B.S.," he said Monday. "What that should do is tell the folks is that I know [SM&E's] capabilities and I know they have nothing to gain by doing anything but telling the truth. If I recuse myself on all the work we do in Hamilton County with architects and contractors, I wouldn't be voting on schools or anything."
County Attorney Rheubin Taylor did not respond to a request for comment Monday. But commission Chairman Sabrena Smedley said Taylor had responded to her request for guidance.
She said Taylor told her by email, "I see nothing that would disqualify Commissioner Boyd from voting on this issue. He has merely expressed his leanings, and his prior involvement with SM&E is not associated with or related to this project."
The county commission is set to vote whether to grant a special permit for a new treatment plant on 150-plus acres on Mahan Gap Road. The WWTA is under the gun from federal and state authorities over years of sewage spills and is negotiating a consent decree that will set out cleanup goals under supervision of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department and the state attorney general's office.
The group of opposed neighbors fear the plant would deliver a hit to their property values and could bring disease and environmental damage.
Smith said Monday a market analysis showed home sales in the area were down 28 percent for the quarter, compared to a 4 percent decline in sales for similar homes across Interstate 75.
"The market has told it what it thinks — not a good idea. People don't want to live next to [a sewer treatment plant]," he said.
Neighbors also say the WWTA is ignoring the fact that much of the proposed site is subject to flooding, which could spread contamination widely if a spill happens.
The WWTA has said the site appears to be best because it could make maximum use of gravity sewers, reducing costs. The authority has said it first has to buy the property — it has asked county commissioners to advance $3 million for the purpose — before it can do the detailed studies to determine whether the site ultimately is suitable and could receive the necessary permits.
Other than Boyd, only Commissioner Chester Bankston has said how he will vote. He's vehemently against the plant, which would lie in his 9th District.
Smedley said she's received hundreds of emails from people opposed to the plant.
These commissioners have faced tough votes before, she said, citing the construction/demolition landfill at Birchwood, the Neighborhood Walmart in Middle Valley, and the recent vote to give $10 million to the Humane Educational Society to build a new animal shelter.
"But this, by far, has been the largest issue so far since I have been serving," Smedley said. "I'm still doing my homework and I probably will be right up until the vote."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.