50-minute recording on stormwater played for city council

Friday, November 20, 2009

If everything went as planned Thursday afternoon, Lewisburg's City Council voted to finalize its approval of a new stormwater ordinance to be in compliance with a state order that includes a $10,000 civil penalty.

Record keeping and other technical enforcement issues were found lacking in Lewisburg when the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) reviewed the city's stormwater office and its records, according to city officials and state records.

Stormwater management is mandated by amendments to the Clean Water Act passed by Congress in 1972. That federal law first addressed sewage treatment plant licensure by state agencies. It now requires municipalities to control rain flowing across roads, roofs, lawns and fields where the population is more than 10,000 and the town has a polluted creek.

City officials have been discussing a TDEC director's order that includes the $10,000 civil penalty and six directives for compliance. There's a chance that might be reduced to $9,000, according to discussion during city meetings.

Lewisburg's revised stormwater ordinance was drafted to address issues raised by the Environmental Protection Agency which has TDEC enforce the federal mandate including: Buffer zones to cleanse surface water as it drains to streams, and; Stormwater detention ponds to reduce the flow and erosion power of water draining through pipes and gullies.

The Council was to vote on the ordinance on Nov. 10, but there were at least two factors leading to delay.

Jim Patterson, environmental manager for St. John Engineering of Manchester, the city's consulting engineer on these issues, was not present and officials saw his attendance as important so answers could be provided to anybody who had questions.

The other reason explained by Mayor Barbara Woods is at the confluence of a city charter requirement and the size of the audience that night in City Hall. A majority of the audience was there because of other issues.

"I was kind of glad," Woods said of the delayed action on the stormwater ordinance, "because there was such a big crowd" that could have been frustrated by a charter requirement for her to read the proposed ordinance aloud before the Council voted.

Technically speaking, Lewisburg's ordinances are enacted on "three readings." The first two "readings" are apparently not required to be aloud, and have been passed into antiquity.

However, Woods said Thursday morning, Don Darden, an experienced consultant with the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Assistance Service that helps towns and cities deal with such complexities, has advised City Hall officials that Lewisburg's Charter requires an aloud reading of proposed ordinances before the third and final vote.

Woods had asked if rules could be suspended to avoid tedium and delay. Not under the current charter, she said, quoting Darden.

To deal with the requirement, Woods has read the proposed ordinance so that it would be recorded and a tape played when the council met at the special called meeting yesterday afternoon.

Overcoming the requirement would require a charter change and that needs action by the Tennessee General Assembly.

"It's about 50 minutes long," Woods said of the tape recording she made to be played in City Hall on Thursday afternoon. "The length of this almost makes the meeting non-functional."

Ironically, the city's environmental engineering consultant has reported that he anticipates more federal changes to the Clean Water Act's enforcement and so the Cit Council may face the prospect of amending the ordinance again.

It was unclear whether this would be the entire ordinance or only a couple of pages of the document that's nearly 40 pages long.

Other business set for the special called meeting Thursday was consideration of retirement planning for city employees.