Confehr: Chili time, telephones, unintended consequences

Friday, September 10, 2010

A friend just graduated from chili judging school.

You know, chili is a serious topic, subject to lengthy discussion in Tennessee.

So, the new judge, who wears a manly apron instead of a black robe, was told of a reporter-columnist-type who judged chili with high mucky-mucks who were being converted into news sources.

They got along fine during the contest, and did as years passed, but the newspaperman wanted to know something from a fellow judge who was hard to find, so he asked, "What's a good time to call?"

The high mucky judge said he gets up at 4 a.m., so about 5 a.m. would be fine. Then they judged chili. Some was a suitable homeopathic medicine for brown submarines that won't leave port every morning.

Having ingested too much of that chili, the intrepid fellow wondered how his fellow judge was the next morning, so he called at 4:45 a.m.

"How are your bowels?" he asked into the telephone dialed in the dark before mobile phones and when landlines didn't have illuminated touch pads.

"What?" asked a groggy female on the other end just before the wrong number call recipient slammed the handset down on the bedside cradle.

That's not the best example of unintended consequences, but Lewisburg faces unintended consequences now.

Our fair-haired mayor - who works the line, "I'm blond, what did you expect?" - says people became aware of manhole overflows when the community walkway was opened.

And, rightly so, they didn't like it and wanted something done. Years passed and the cost is revealed. It's $13 million to double the sewage treatment plant's capacity and build a holding tank to delay processing until rain storms pass.

Many of the town's sewers are cracked and broken and ground water leaks into them, thereby increasing flows to the plant.

Now, Councilman Robin Minor who says the $13 million fix is really just treating a symptom and not the cause, so he's challenged the state-sanctioned solution to expand the plant and build a tank.

Minor realizes water rates will have to go up to pay for a solution, but a bigger treatment facility addresses symptoms. It won't cure the cause of the problem.

Why not repair the pipes?

One answer could be that it's not cost effective, although the officials who've been examining the problem for years concede that there's been no cost estimate. Two broad, "ballpark" estimates have been heard. One is about $170 million. Another is about $100 million. Regardless, both are well beyond twice and three times the cost of the plant expansion and holding tank.

Theoretically, the latter would increase an average water bill by $14-21 instead of $7 per month.

And finally, one of our news sources, who probably loves chili, told us Minor isn't running for re-election in May. We asked him about it and he said his wife and children don't want him to run, but he's undecided.

He says people are glad he's fighting the water rate hike.