State orders sewer tap moratorium

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has imposed a moratorium on new sewer taps in Lewisburg because of raw sewage overflows from sewers and the sewage treatment plant.

TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke's order expands a partial, self-imposed moratorium affecting nearly two-thirds of the city since 2005, Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Department Superintendent Kenneth Carr said Wednesday.

"It couldn't happen at a better time," Carr said. "There are no new [sewer] lines going in the ground anyway. There hasn't been a request to be turned down because there hasn't been a request. There's nothing going on" because of the poor economy.

Dated Nov. 30, the TDEC order arrived at City Hall on Dec. 3. Mayor Barbara Woods read it last weekend. It expands a 2005 order that included a $10,000 civil penalty. It could not be waived. Other penalties were listed, but the new order says penalties may be avoided if the city follows directions such as doubling the capacity of the sewage treatment plant.

"The plan [to stop pollution from raw sewage overflows] and the date deadlines ... appear to allow for total dismissal of the fine if the numerous deadlines are met," Woods said late Tuesday after reviewing the 26-page document with Carr and the water utility's assistant superintendent, Pepper Biggers.

Civil penalties for the city's pollution of land and waterways are listed in the state order. Those fines total $332,500. A detailed schedule of projects is explained in the order. If the tasks are completed on time, the $332,500 won't have to be paid.

State Water Pollution Control Director Paul Davis has the authority to adjust the schedule, but the city must file a request.

Meanwhile, Lewisburg has scheduled a public meeting at 6:15 p.m. Thursday in City Hall to inform the public about the $13 million sewage plant expansion and construction of a large holding tank where sewage would await treatment.

That project and other matters are sure to be discussed at the meeting, but the session was called (by way of a paid legal notice appearing in the classified section of today's newspaper) to inform residents about the city's application for a "Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan with Partial Principal Forgiveness in the amount of $10 million to construct Wastewater Treatment Plant improvements..."

At the open public meeting Thursday night next week, city officials are to explain the "impact on monthly water and sewer bills" arising from the cost of expanding the treatment plant, the city announcement states.

"It is noted that 20 percent of that [$10 million] amount will be in the form of principal forgiveness and will not have to be repaid," the legal notice states.

That 20 percent of the loan that does not have to be repaid -- $2 million -- is a result of federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as passed by Congress. It's also known as economic stimulus money.

Sewage overflows from a manhole in Lewisburg became known to the public that uses the walking trail that generally parallels Rock Creek. During an on-going public discussion about water and sewer rate increases to pay for the expansion of the treatment plant, Woods has pointed out that when joggers, pedestrians and others passed by a flooded manhole, they've noticed what was happening and they requested a remedy.

That manhole is "by the walking track at the Cornersville Road bridge," Carr said Wednesday. "We had to post it there because five times in one year, it [the manhole] overflowed."

The pipe overflows because stormwater seeps into sewage collection pipes, thereby increasing the flow of sewage, albeit diluted sewage, that can't be treated fast enough by the sewage plant. As a result, the wastewater collects in pipes until there's an overflow.

Fyke's new order renews the required postings to notify people who use the creek downstream when "untreated wastewater is discharge ... by sanitary sewer overflows."

The state told the city it must notify the public with various "procedures" that "shall include, but not be limited to... posting warning signs."

Ultimately, the TDEC commissioner's order leads to a Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for completion of the expansion of the city's sewage treatment plant.

Carr is confident that the deadline can be met.

As for discussion at the 6:15 p.m. Thursday meeting in City Hall: It will "most definitely" include explanations about the water and sewer rate hikes, he said.

Asked if he thought Fyke's order includes a way for the city to avoid paying fines because of the high unemployment rate and otherwise recessionary economic conditions here, Carr replied, "I would say there's some truth to that."