Septic tank bill on hold as Chattanooga legislators work out kinks with Tennessee regulators

Septic tank bill on hold as Chattanooga legislators work out kinks with Tennessee regulators

February 12th, 2019 by Andy Sher in Politics State

District 27 Republican candidate Patsy Hazlewood speaks during a meet and greet hosted by the League of Women Voters in the Chattanooga Rooms at the University Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

NASHVILLE — A state-level effort to address complications arising from a Hamilton County moratorium on new sewer connections in Ooltewah is on hold for now as local legislators try to work out issues with Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials and others.

"I took it off notice because there's some concern about language," said Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, after delaying a hearing on the bill Tuesday in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

Hazlewood and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, introduced the legislation this year after the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation directed the county's Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority to impose a moratorium in areas of eastern Hamilton County, one of the fastest developing sections of the entire county.

That stemmed from the sewer authority's illegal release of 2 million gallons of raw sewage into Rogers Creek in a single year. So the authority can't allow any new hookups to sewers there until problems are resolved, an expected lengthy process.

Meanwhile, local property owners, homebuilders and developers want to rely on septic tanks so they can proceed with plans to build houses. But, lawmakers and others say, the conundrum is they can't get permits for septic tanks if sewers are technically available, even though the moratorium bars them from hooking into the system.

A 90-day requirement to hook up to the sewer system remains in effect, despite no one being able to do so.

"There's some discussion about whether what we need and want to be done can be done via rule versus law," Hazlewood said of her discussions with state Department of Environment and Conservation officials and others. "So there just were a lot more concerns expressed than we were able to address and get the bill moving today."

As a result, she's delaying the bill "while all the interested parties can continue to have conversations," Hazlewood said. "It's the same issue that we talked about before, 'How do you define accessibility? If the sewers are in front of your property, does that make it accessible, even though there's a moratorium and you can't hook into it?' My perception is that it's not really accessible if you can't use it."

Hazlewood said "I just want to make it possible for a property owner to either develop their property or build their house as long as they can get a septic tank that would work, meet all the requirements and then at whatever point the sewer becomes actually available to hook into that.

"It seems very simple," the frustrated lawmaker said. "It got very complicated quickly."

Hazlewood said she's now trying to get information from the environment department on how many counties and sewer districts have moratoriums on new sewer hookups to their systems. Her understanding is Williamson and Shelby counties do. The lawmaker also noted House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Jay Reedy, R-Erin, told her there may be issues in Houston County.

TDEC officials have yet to respond to a Times Free Press request made Monday for a list of counties and sewer districts with moratoriums on sewer hookups because of environmental problems.

Gardenhire's bill is scheduled to be heard Wednesday in Senate committee. But given the House situation, it's likely to be delayed.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.