Tennessee House sends Hamilton County septic tank bill to governor

Tennessee House sends Hamilton County septic tank bill to governor

March 25th, 2019 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee House gave final approval Monday night to a bill addressing Hamilton County's septic tank and sewer problems, sending it on to Gov. Bill Lee for his consideration.

The vote was 91-3.

"This bill would simply allow [the state] to provide septic permits in situations where there are sewer moratoriums," Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, told House colleagues. "If their property met requirements currently in place for septic tanks, it would allow them to get a septic tank permit and continue to utilize their property."

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, passed the Senate bill earlier this month.

The bill is an effort to address problems in rapidly growing east Hamilton County where the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in late 2018 ordered the county's Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority to impose a moratorium on new sewer hookups in the Ooltewah area.

It was spurred by the WWTA's repeated raw sewage overflow violations.

Current state law says a home or business must hook up to a sewer system within 90 days when it becomes accessible. But while sewer lines ran near the Ooltewah properties, the moratorium prevented hookups and they weren't available, and it remains clear when that will be fixed.

As the issue began overflowing into local developers' plans, alarmed Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga officials asked local lawmakers to introduce the bill to allow them to use septic tanks.

The legislation says state or local officials can't deny a permit for a septic tank "solely because there is a public sewer system" that is technically "accessible" but not available due to a sewer moratorium.

There are other conditions applicable, as well.

Environmental groups originally raised questions, but proponents believe they addressed them adequately.

As amended, the legislation says septic tank permits won't be denied during a moratorium if the applicant submits documentation with the permit application stating the applicant cannot connect or has been delayed from connecting.

It also would impact a person delayed from connecting to a public sewer system because of a moratorium if the person has been placed on a waiting list due to the moratorium.

Applicants would still have to meet soil testing percolation requirements to ensure the ground can handle the septic systems.

Another bill provision requires notification to prospective home buyers that they would eventually have to hook up to the county's sewer system when it's available.

It has statewide application and would impact more than three dozen other operations across the state, according to TDEC figures.

The bill is HB165/SB178.

In other action Monday, the House voted 91-5 for a bill by Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, that prohibits local governments from imposing greater restrictions or requirements on privately owned sports shooting ranges than those imposed by the same government on government-owned ranges.

Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, asked Reedy if the bill would "interfere with a local government authority's ability to zone where a firing range would be. In other words, could it be right next to a school or a church?"

Reedy said it wouldn't.

"This does not restrict the local governments from their zoning ordinance or what they have put into place," Reedy said. "This bill just pertains if there is a private shooting range at this time. It has nothing to do with what may be coming in the future to your community."

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has the Senate companion bill. He recently re-referred the measure, which had been scheduled for Senate floor debate, to the Senate Calendar Committee. It was not immediately clear why.

The legislation is HB187/SB446.

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