Dr. Richard Urban, head of the TDEC district office in Chattanooga, attended Monday’s Bradley County Commission work session and said Wilkinson Branch, which runs into Chatata Creek, is polluted with pathogens and a high level of E. coli. Dr. Urban said tests in April and May confirm the high level of pollution, which is mostly human influenced (fecal matter).
He said there was some cattle influence in the May test, but it was very little.
Dr. Urban said the state had previously placed the mobile home park property owner on notice of violation due to a lot of problems with the septic system and pumping station, but the state has received no response to the notice. He said it is a state permitting issue and the state is limited in what action it can take against an out-of-state property owner. The owner of the property lives in California.
The TDEC official says UT-Knoxville perfected a diagnostic test in 2006 which can determine the source of pathogens in a polluted waterway. He said this system was used in the recent tests of Wilkinson Branch. “These tests indicate a significant human source,” he said.
Dr. Urban said TDEC has spoken with counsel concerning the lack of compliance from the mobile home park owner.
“We’ve come up with two potential strategies,” he said. “We can once again issue a notice of violation and direct order, and issue a notice of violation to each resident of the trailer park.” Dr. Urban said the second strategy would be for the county to issue a condemnation of the collection system through imminent domain and then transfer ownership to another entity (such as Cleveland Utilities).
Dr. Urban said there has been a precedent to this second strategy. “But, it is not as nice a process as we would like,” he said.
Dr. Urban said TDEC recently posted a polluted waterway in Chattanooga. “We would entertain a request to post Wilkinson Branch,” he said.
Bradley County attorney Joe Byrd said he had not seen this latest TDEC report until Monday’s meeting, but agreed with Commissioner Lisa Stanbery that the county now has a threshold on which it can act.
Byrd added that the county should look at the two Wilkinson Branch concerns separately, relating to a second problem of beaver dams along the stream.
Dr. Urban said TDEC has authorized the removal of the beavers and beaver dams, and that this authorization has been submitted to the county mayor and Stormwater Department. “There are no restrictions on controlling the beaver population and we recommend that a very aggressive program be put in place,” he said. “There are a lot of dams out there.”
TDEC has also confirmed that the beaver dams are not a jurisdictional wetland. He said the beavers are raising the level of the dam each year and the area surrounding the dams is being impounded. There is also some concern about the dams causing flooding to nearby roadways.
Dr. Urban said TDEC discovered at a high-end development in Chattanooga that the beavers “have no respect for people with a lot of money. We’ve been forced to use beaver deceivers and other means to convince the little boogers that everything is status quo.”
In continuing discussion of the mobile home park’s collection system, Dr. Urban emphasized there are no longer any privately-owned collection systems in Tennessee. “But, we have no jurisdiction to reach out and require compliance,” he added.
Commission Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber said he was “shocked the state has no jurisdiction over absentee ownership.”
Asked by Commissioner Jim Smith if TDEC was “positive” the pumping station was the source of the pollution, Dr. Urban replied, “We can say to some level of certainty that the pumping station is discharging pathogens into Wilkerson Branch.”
“This is an illicit discharged, and your stormwater policy has a section on illicit discharge,” Dr. Urban told the Commission.
Commissioner Smith added that “there’s no question that’s a problem out there.” Dr. Urban agreed, saying, “It’s a sticky wicket.”
Near the conclusion of Monday’s discussion, the county attorney agreed to set up a meeting of himself, Dr. Urban, Bradley County Engineer (and stormwater water director) Sandra Knight, and others to come up with a suggestion for action by the Commission. It is hoped a proposed plan can be discussed and possibly adopted by the Commission’s next meeting on June 7.
A group of Royal Oaks residents attended Monday’s meeting and spokesperson Barbara said, “We are encouraged by what we’ve heard tonight.”
One resident said she is scared by the word E. coli. “I have grandchildren and they play in Wilkinson Branch,” she said. Dr. Urban Urban responded that he is a grandparent also, and he would like to have his grandchildren play in the creek. “But, I would not,” he emphasized. “It’s not a good habitat.”