Cooper: Learning 'The Secret of NIMBY'

Cooper: Learning 'The Secret of NIMBY'

December 21st, 2018 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

CORRECTION: Tim Boyd's name has replaced Warren Mackey's in the list of commissioners who voted against the permit.

When it came right down to it, neither Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) personnel nor Mahan Gap Road residents could say with 100 percent accuracy what life would be like in the area if a sewage treatment plant were built nearby.

That lack of knowledge — and there was no way either side ever would know before it was built — prompted the Hamilton County Commission, following on the heels of a similar vote in November by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, to vote 6-3 on Wednesday to deny a permit allowing a sewer plant to be built.

However, commissioners' actions have consequences, perhaps in sooner-than-planned tax increases, likely higher water rates and stagnating housing starts in the fast-growing east end of the county.

Where votes count, though, commissioners against the permit (Chip Baker, Chester Bankston, Randy Fairbanks, Katherlyn Geter, Tim Boyd and Chairwoman Sabrena Smedley) are more likely to be remembered as being on the side of homeowners and less by whether their actions curbed growth or caused anyone's taxes (or fees) to rise if they aren't on record as raising them.

Organized homeowners in the eastern end of the county — at least in one particular area on Mahan Gap Road — may have dodged a bullet, but they cannot escape a sewage treatment plant.

It's coming because a pending federal order for ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act says something must be done, and a plant is one piece of more than $200 million in sewer upgrades deemed necessary. As if that weren't bad enough, the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the state a "D+" grade in the category of wastewater due to its aging infrastructure.

Currently, pump stations in the area in question are considered at their capacity, and a moratorium is in place for additional sewer connections.

The crux of the problem, as WWTA Executive Director Mark Harrison explained to residents over and over, is that the Mahan Gap Road site was topographically the best available and the least expensive alternative of some dozen or so studied. At any other site, waste will have to be collected in storage tanks in the Mahan Gap Road area and pumped to wherever the treatment plant is built.

Further, any other future site is bound to come with the same set of complaints as did the one the Hamilton County Commission voted down.

It's too near my house. It will be unsightly. It will smell. Sewage will run over and damage the environment. I'll get a disease from the nasty air.

So, the local planning commission and the county commission can look forward to having those same arguments in the future with a different set of homeowners.

Residents, meanwhile, were working on conjecture and assumptions about what might have been expected from a sewage treatment plant. Harrison was working on knowledge of improvements that have been made in such plants and the technology that exists for their usage.

On one hand, the residents' complaints may never have come to pass; on the other hand, the improvements and the technology in such plants may not have kept them from having problems.

Part of the de facto property tax increase passed by the Hamilton County Commission in September 2017 was to pay for a new sewage treatment plant. Now, according to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, having to locate the sewage treatment plant at an alternative site — a more costly option — might force another tax increase to pay for debt service.

In the meantime, further growth at places in the eastern end of the county will be stymied. Growth comes with jobs, more people paying more property taxes and the county reaping more money so it might provide more to the community in the form of schools, better roads and improved services.

No growth means fewer jobs, less tax revenue, and fewer county upgrades and improvements. It makes the county a less inviting place to locate a new or larger business.

Yes, we're offering a worst-case scenario. In time — five to seven years is typical for construction — a sewage treatment plant will be built, or an as yet undetermined alternative plan will be figured out, and growth will pick up again.

What the potential time lost will cost the county cannot be measured. In the meantime, Mahan Gap Road residents can celebrate for finding and using "The Secret of NIMBY" — not in my backyard.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315