City water service in state limbo

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lewisburg's Water and Wastewater Department might be seen as in a state of limbo with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and civil penalties.

During the City Council debate over a water and sewer service rate hikes that took effect two weeks ago, city officials cited a pending fine from TDEC as a reason to raise rates.

More money is needed to pay for a $13 million expansion of the sewage treatment plant.

TDEC's Clean Water Division director, Paul Davis, has told city officials that an order for new civil penalties was just awaiting a signature from TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke. Mayor Barbara Woods, Alderman Robin Minor and city utilities Superintendent Kenneth Carr said so. The civil penalty is because the city allowed partially treated wastewater to pass through the treatment plant when what's normally carried by a leaky sewerage system is diluted by groundwater as a result of rainfall.

"In talking with Paul Davis, I never got an amount" on what the fine would cost," Carr said Tuesday. "And when the mayor and I spoke with him, she asked how much and he replied he never says until the commissioner signs it.

"We're still waiting," Carr continued during a mobile phone interview. "Personally, I don't want to rattle the cage any more. If they forget it, I'm certainly not going to call them and say, 'Hey, you forgot to fine us.'"

Meanwhile, the State Revolving Fund (SRF), from which TDEC loans money to utilities at a low rate, has received a certified copy of the city's ordinance that raised water and sewer rates.

"SRF says the rates are sufficient" to make time payments on borrowed money, Carr said. So, the utility is fiscally sound for the $13 million project, according to Carr's interpretation of the SRF statement.

Ordinance 10-17 passed by the city council set the starting date of the new rates as Oct. 1.

In other utility developments:

* Lewisburg's rate change affects Marshall County's Board of Public Utilities. MCBPU's contract to buy water from the city was extended until the rate change. The county utility has no water plant of its own. That big customer's rate went up by 25 cents per 1,000 gallons or from $2.15 to $2.40. The county utility board meets at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. MCBPU sells water to Chapel Hill.

* Lewisburg's water utility has eight billing cycles and four have been sent for October, according to billing clerk Carol Franklin. More bills go out late this week to about 520 customers in Cornersville. There are at least 5,600 customer taps in Lewisburg.

* Carr planned to be at a meeting of the Duck River Agency Technical Advisory Committee in Shelbyville this morning. DRA-TAC consists of utility managers who sell water from the Duck River. DRA-TAC deals with the details of water supply and quality issues.