Hamilton County's sewer authority has optioned to buy 157 acres of farmland in Ooltewah to build a $45 million sewage treatment plant that its backers say will extend needed sewer lines and expand development in north Hamilton County.
County commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on authorizing the bond-funded land purchase, but many neighbors of the site targeted for the plant say they don't like the smell of the deal.
"Most people in this area didn't even know about, or even suspect, that this plant was coming near us until last Friday and here we are five days later, supposedly appropriating the funds to buy the property," said Bill Martin, treasurer of the nearby North Heron Bay subdivision and one of several neighbors expected to attend the county commission meeting.
Rob Noland, another resident of North Heron Bay, worries that a sewage treatment plant built on the property adjacent to their 100-home subdivision may cause odor and health problems and lessen their property values.
"My concerns are about the exposure of myself and my young kids to various airborne toxics and bacteria and odors that might come from this plant that I never anticipated when we moved here five years ago," he said. "I'm afraid this will hurt the property values for all of us who live near this plant."
Officials with the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA), which is developing plans to build the sewage treatment plant over the next five years, said they will work to limit any odor or water contaminants from the facility.
WWTA Executive Director Mark Harrison said the new plant will offer a better and cheaper method of sewage treatment in the Ooltewah, Apison, Harrison and Georgetown areas. The new plant will only be a fraction of the size of the city of Chattanooga's Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment plant, but it is expected to clear the way for the addition of at least 10,000 more homes in the county's most rapidly growing area.
"Protecting the environment and planning for growth can go hand in hand and certainly will for this project," Harrison said. "There's no way we'd ever try to send treated water through areas that might have a negative impact on our valuable creeks and tributaries."
If approved, WWTA engineering manager Michael Patrick said, the proposed plant site would ship its treated water effluent 5-7 miles to the Tennessee River near the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant.
"We have no plans to discharge into Savannah Bay," said Mike Moon, chairman of the WWTA.
The WWTA is proposing to buy the 157-acre parcel at 7800 Mahan Gap Road from Danna Smith McWilliams for $2.6 million. Harrison said the site was chosen from among 10 that were reviewed by the sewer authority, including the county's landfill at Birchwood, which engineers said would be more costly to use because of its topography and elevation.
The Mahan Gap Road site that was ultimately chosen has a lower elevation to help the gravity flow of sewage into the plant and also includes enough land for a buffer and no endangered species or rare artifacts that could raise environmental or historic preservation concerns. The site has 77 contiguous acres above the 100-year floodplain suitable for the treatment facility, and the authority anticipates using less than a third of the site for the plant, with the rest available for vegetation and a buffer.
The site will have to be rezoned for a sewage treatment plant, which will require a vote in November by the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission and then a decision in December by the county commission.
The WWTA is requesting Wednesday that the county approve an interlocal agreement to provide the funds for the property purchase since it does not have such funds immediately available. The sewer authority would repay the county for the land purchase costs and other funds forwarded to the WWTA in coming years to fund construction of the new plant.
But Hamilton County Commissioner Chester Bankston, who said he has gotten nearly 300 phone calls from constituents upset about the proposed plant location, thinks the citizens should know more about how the proposed site was chosen.
"This has generated more calls than any other issue I've ever dealt with," Bankston said. "People don't know anything about it. There should have been some community meetings before now."
At Bankston's urging, the WWTA will conduct a public meeting Thursday, Oct. 11, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Fire Hall Training Center at 9100 Snow Hill Road in Ooltewah.
Like cities and counties across Tennessee, Chattanooga and Hamilton County are facing state- and federally-mandated cleanups of their sewer facilities. Mitigating the local sewer and water quality problems is projected to cost more than $500 million, similar to the $540 million cost for sewer upgrades in Knoxville and only 40 percent of the projected $1.3 billion cost for the sewer improvements mandated in Nashville.
Homes in the area that are on septic tanks will not have to connect to the new sewage treatment plant. But as those tanks fail over time, or developers look to build on more vacant sites, sewer will be needed to comply with environmental standards for development, Harrison said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.