Septic future?

Posted 11/8/19

Although supporters looking at ways to offer sewer options throughout Bradley County acknowledge the measure is long overdue, they also estimate it could take decades to develop and implement plans to make residents less reliant on septic systems.

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Septic future?


(Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a two-week series exploring existing infrastructure and future needs in the Cleveland and Bradley County community.)

Although supporters looking at ways to offer sewer options throughout Bradley County acknowledge the measure is long overdue, they also estimate it could take decades to develop and implement plans to make residents less reliant on septic systems.

Commissioner Dennis Epperson, who is chairman of the ad hoc committee, acknowledged in April that providing water and sewer service throughout the county “is a long-term commitment.”

“You’ve got to have a starting point,” Epperson said.

Infrastructure improvements are an ongoing concern for local governments, but infrastructure — especially water and sewer service — was listed as a priority by commissioners earlier this year. In March, commissioners reviewed a list of priorities, compiled from lists they submitted.

“It is things we all agree upon” to focus on and pay attention to,” Chairman Johnny Mull said.

The top response categories were salaries, 86%; education, 71%; infrastructure, 57%; economic development, 57%; building maintenance, 35%; and reduce debt, 21%.

As part of the 2019-20 budget process, the Bradley County Commission approved allocating up to $80,000 for a feasibility study related to water and sewer service to unincorporated parts of Bradley County.

Last month, the county commission's ad hoc committee on Drinking Water and Waste Water Treatment Services met to discuss the request for qualifications (RFQ) process, an early step toward launching the study.

A request for qualifications (RFQ) usually refers to the pre-qualification stage of the procurement process. Only those proponents who successfully respond to the RFQ and meet the qualification criteria will be included in the subsequent request for proposals (RFP) solicitation process.

The RFQ will include:

• Areas of need in the county, listed and ranked;

• Different types of systems and cost analysis; and

• Explore participating with utility companies.

At a recent meeting, Epperson said the sewer feasibility study will include information for all area utility companies.

"… This is all about meeting the needs of future generations," he said.

Epperson also acknowledged the difficulty of planning for eventual sewer service for the county.

"I think there are areas in Bradley County that will never be served by a [traditional sewer plant]," he said. But there is the opportunity for decentralized systems, which are costly, Epperson added.

The decentralized method has a septic tank at each home with a pump pushing effluent (liquids) to a treatment plant where filters and ultraviolet light are used to kill bacteria, including E. coli. The effluent is released through a drip dispersal system where the liquid is leached into the soil.

Epperson said he thinks some of these decentralized systems will be seen in the future, but not many. He estimated it takes 150 to 200 homes "to make it work."

Ongoing issues with failing septic systems countywide, and the need for sanitary sewer, were highlighted last December, when Tony Kinder, a local resident and site development manager with the city of Chattanooga’s Land Development Office, spoke to the ad hoc committee.

Kinder presented an overview of projected Bradley County growth and upcoming infrastructure needs, including sewer. One slide that drew the committee’s attention showed a map of the county’s septic tank absorption field areas, which showed about 77% of the county’s soils “are very limited in their use of septic tanks and field lines …”

Another 21% of soils are “somewhat limited” with many of those areas already developed, the presentation showed.

Earlier this week, commissioners approved a motion for the ad hoc committee to develop an RFQ for the drinking water and wastewater feasibility study.

“It is not completed, it is in the very early stages,” Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg told the County Commission Monday.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak asked when commissioners would be able to see the RFQ.

“When it’s done. It’s not going to be simple to do,” Freiberg responded.

Epperson agreed, “it’s a work in progress,” and the commission’s vote was to approve moving forward with the process.

After that meeting, Epperson sent a statement to the Cleveland Daily Banner about comments made at an earlier meeting “that we need to give property taxpayers money to a utility company.

“I don’t believe this is a common practice,” Epperson stated. “What is common is that local governments stand behind bonds that are repaid by the consumer of where the services are provided. In order to obtain grants, we need to provide a plan for the services.”

Epperson added most utility companies or authorities do not operate on taxpayers’ money.

“Let us be reminded that the water and wastewater study, ‘infrastructure’ for Bradley County was one of three that were a top priority of this commission,” Epperson stated. “I am encouraged that my fellow commissioners voted to approve drafting (an RFQ). This brings us one step closer for preparing a sustainable, healthy environment and a long-range master plan for our citizens and future generations.”

In March, Peak said she hoped county leaders will start designating money in each budget cycle to be used for sewer service.

“This is for our future generations. We won’t benefit from this,” Peak said, adding this is for people with failing septic systems, too. “We’ve got to start looking at this now … I think we owe it to the future.”

While a countywide sewer feasibility study will take months to complete and years to implement, one local utility agency is on track to offer sewer service to part of Bradley County, possibly by the end of next year.

Tim Lawson, general manager of Ocoee Utility District, has also been active in conversations about sewer service. He has previously noted he appreciates the ad hoc committee “for the planning efforts to see what you can do for wastewater in the county.”

In 2008, OUD developed its decentralized method which is a plant collection system for a small area, like a residential development. Lawson said developers bear the cost for those systems; OUD has two decentralized treatment plants, at Brighton Ridge and Johnston Estates.

In addition, Lawson recently commented on Bradley County’s approval for a $525,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), for a sewer line extension to serve Taylor Elementary School and the surrounding area.

“It’s great getting that confirmation and the award and knowing we’re going to be able to work on this project with the county,” Lawson said last month.

Lawson said Ocoee Utility’s plan is to get started on permitting and design approval in late winter 2019, with anticipated completion by the end of 2020. He said “a handful” of customers have asked for updates on the proposed project throughout the year, but he believes there are many who are “excited that option will be there in the future.”


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