More funding for a new wastewater treatment plant was tabled by Hamilton County commissioners Wednesday and a new site still has not been identified, despite "encouraging progress" from a committee formed to help find a location for the plant originally set for Mahan Gap Road.
At the commission's Feb. 27 meeting, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger proposed a resolution to allocate up to another $25 million to the $45 million already planned for the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority project, but commissioners said they were hesitant to vote on more funding without a new location.
Previously, the sewer authority sought a special permit to build the sewage plant in the Ooltewah area, but under pressure from the community the commission denied the request from WWTA in a 6-3 vote in December.
District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd asked the commissioners who voted to table the discussion Wednesday what further information they needed to make a decision, calling out Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley, of District 7, and Commissioner Katherlyn Geter, of District 5, specifically.
"Tabling this issue is kicking the can down the road that we've done long enough," Boyd said. "I implore you to tell me what information you are seeking to make a reasonable decision. There has not been an issue, resolution budget, whatever you may have it, in my 9 years that has more information about it than this wastewater treatment plant."
The additional $25 million is needed, Coppinger has pointed out, because of the need for a new location. The Mahan Gap Road site was the ideal location for the project, WWTA interim director Mike Patrick said at the Feb. 27 meeting.
But some balked and called the original process of identifying a site "cheap."
"The path they took was obviously the cheap path," said Dean Moorhouse, president of North Hamilton County United for Responsible Growth. "It seems that this whole process was all about what's cheapest."
Moorhouse was charged with selecting members for the community committee appointed by Coppinger last month in an effort to bridge the gap between WWTA, the county and its constituents and "reset" the process.
District 6 commissioner David Sharpe asked Moorhouse on Wednesday for updates on the formation of the committee and the identification of alternative sites.
Moorhouse said the committee, which includes two engineers, a builder, an attorney, a marketing specialist and others, has met with Patrick, put together some criteria and reviewed alternative sites, many of which were initially identified previously when the Mahan Gap site was chosen, including ruling out five locations that WWTA had previously ruled out.
"We are looking for the least costly solution for what has been identified as a costly problem to our community," Moorhouse said. "We are still looking for an adequate site."
District 3 Commissioner Greg Martin even questioned Coppinger on whether there was historical precedent for a community committee to weigh in on such a large decision.
The launch of the committee was announced at a meeting on Feb. 21 that some commissioners claim they didn't know anything about.
District 9 Commissioner Chester Bankston, a member of the committee, emphasized that it would be bringing a recommendation for approval to the commission, something Coppinger said he felt was vital.
"The committee was not just something that we were doing for the optics. ... And I'm hearing some good things from you today," Coppinger told Moorhouse during the meeting. "You're gonna have more input than you think you're going to have."
Several commissioners praised the mayor for his commitment to community input and said they were encouraged by the progress and additional information, but still voted to table the vote.
The crux of the vote — the funding — might come up for discussion again at next week's agenda session or that might wait until the committee is ready to announce a new proposed site.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.