Pam's Points: Make a joyful noise to keep government straight

Pam's Points: Make a joyful noise to keep government straight

December 14th, 2018 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Staff photo by Tim Barber Opponents wear yellow stickers to protest the placement of a new sewage treatment plant in Ooltewah.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Make your voices heard

The protesters who prompted a Chattanooga City Council walkout Tuesday over the treatment of a local rapper by Hamilton County deputies during an arrest took their outrage to the wrong place.

They sought response in City Hall, but where they really need to make their voices heard is in the County Commission meeting room in the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Chattanooga Council Vice Chairman Erskine Oglesby and councilman Anthony Byrd on Tuesday tried to reassure the crowd that they, too, questioned the way the arrest was made.

"I want everybody to know that we, as a council, believe and feel that this is unacceptable behavior and we are appalled and incensed by it," Oglesby said. "And by no stretch of the imagination do you think we tolerate that kind of behavior."

"You have, though," one protester interrupted. The crowd chanted, "No justice, no peace!" And council members, after standing for awhile in hopes the crowd would calm, finally walked out.

Some in the crowd were as disappointed in that walkout as they were in the violent arrest that left rapper Charles Toney with injuries. Christopher Torregano said he felt "utterly disrespected."

"To hear the voices of the people, you have to care enough to stick around and listen," he said.

He's right. But so was the council. Chattanooga doesn't run the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.

That buck stops with the sheriff, the Hamilton County Commission and the Hamilton County mayor.

The protest — a valid one — should be in front of those folks next time.


Keep making your voices heard

Speaking of protests, the county commissioners did see one this week — a four-hour protest from a bunch of mostly white people who don't want a new sewage treatment plant built in their community in the northern end of the county.

Opponents cited everything from the spread of deadly bacteria and viruses to plummeting property values and the sewage utility's sorry track record to date as reasons to deny a special permit for the proposed $45 million plant on Mahan Gap Road.

They argued the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority can't explain how the plant will be designed; what, beyond a tree buffer, will protect nearby homes from odor, or how to ensure no sewage leaks into Savannah Bay if there's a spill.

WWTA and county leaders say the sewage treatment plant must be built so the county can keep growing, along with its tax rolls as new homes and businesses are built in our more rural areas.

WWTA consultant Scott McDonald told the crowd that the proposed facility is "the most environmentally conscious and safest thing to do."

Noting the plant is part of a $245 million consent degree being negotiated with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice to stop years of millions of gallons of sewage spilling into creeks and the Tennessee River, he said EPA "doesn't care about growth. They want stuff fixed, and they want it fixed now."

Actually that's not true. EPA does care about growth — that it's made responsibly. And the EPA doesn't want our raw sewage problems fixed "now" — it wanted them fixed years, even decades, ago. That's why the tardy WWTA now faces the hammer.

Created in 1993 by the Hamilton County Commission, the WWTA was originally charged with installing and repairing rural and suburban sewage lines and connecting them to Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant.

Whatever happened to that idea?


TVA's big foot and footprint

Failing to upgrade infrastructure — be it in ensuring clean water or retooling government relations — is biting TVA in the backside this week, too.

In Chattanooga, Georgetown property owner Greg Vital has filed a federal lawsuit against TVA to block its 1930s-like eminent domain filing to put a high-voltage transmission line across his farm property in southern Meigs County to serve the new $300 million power control center there.

Vital's lawsuit contends TVA didn't adequately prepare for its infrastructure needs or properly inform neighbors before launching plans for the proposed new grid control center. The suit says TVA — known for putting thousands of rural valley residents out off their homes during the 1930s and 1940s to dam the Tennessee River — has grown "too comfortable" with its big-footing power.

But that's not TVA's only East Tennessee headache.

Ten years ago this month, the Kingston Ash Spill dumped millions of tons of toxic ash sludge from a towering coal ash landfill onto the sleepy community of Harriman, Tenn., and the Emory River.

TVA's "cleanup" took well over five years and cost more than $1 billion.

But this month TVA reported to the EPA that three of five groundwater test wells below the rebuilt landfill show the presence of arsenic and radium, toxic elements of coal ash, above baseline levels. The arsenic measure is below water safety standards, but rose over time, suggesting continued and cumulative contamination, according to a USA Today Network news story.

Roane County and Harriman officials are not happy. TVA didn't tell them about the growing contamination.

Roane County Commission Chairman Randy Ellis — who, by the way, got into local politics after becoming an community activist and protester in the early aftermath of the ash spill — says TVA has an obligation to his community to be transparent about what's going on at its coal ash landfills.

Both Harriman and Roane County officials this week voted to hire legal counsel.

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