published Monday, October 17th, 2011

Hamilton County's Private Service Lateral Program could save you money

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AT A GLANCE


• Who pays: About 26,000 residents in East Ridge, Red Bank, Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy, Signal Mountain, Ridgeside, Lookout Mountain, Lakesite and throughout unincorporated areas in Hamilton County pay $8 a month into the Private Service Lateral Program.

• Who qualifies for paid repairs: All 26,000 homes and businesses on private service lateral lines qualify to have the county test and replace their lateral plumbing lines if needed.

• More information: Call the Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority at 209-7842 or visit www.hamiltontn.gov/wwta.

Kevin Tarver wants his money back.

But he also wants to spare others the trouble and expense he has been through because he didn't know about a county program set up to pay for certain sewer repairs.

Owners of homes and businesses in Hamilton County have been charged $8 a month on their water bills for the past two years to pay for repairs to lateral lines -- the ones that run from the street to a house or business.

When the sewer line in Tarver's front yard needed repair, he paid the $3,600 cost himself because he never knew the Private Service Lateral Program existed. The program is run by the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.

"I call the Wastewater Treatment Authority and I speak to the people there and initially, it's like I am the village idiot, that I am supposed to secretly know about this program that apparently I pay $8 a month into and that's been established since 2009," said Tarver.

Chris Clem, attorney for the WWTA, said less than 1,000 lateral pipes have been tested and replaced in Hamilton County, and all that work has been paid through the $8 fee.

Tarver plans to attend a WWTA public meeting Nov. 16 to argue that he should be refunded his money and the county should do more to educate residents about the program.

He said even the plumber from South East Total Service, which is in the program, didn't initially tell him that the program existed.

It wasn't until days after Tarver paid $107 to South East Total for checking the sewer line that the company called back to say it would refund the money and told Tarver about the program. By then he had already paid $3,600 to fix it.

Tarver had the problem over Labor Day weekend, so the South East Total Service office was closed. There was only one man on call, and he doesn't know every address included in the program, said J.T. Alier, owner of South East Total Service. Some addresses in Harrison, where Tarver lives, are in the program, and some are not, he said.

It wasn't until South East Total's office was open again on the Tuesday after Labor Day that they could determine whether Tarver was in the program, Alier said.

He noted that his office initiated the call to tell Tarver he was in the program after his office opened, but by then he had already paid a different plumber for the service. And that plumber never got a permit to do the job.

"I feel really bad for this guy," said Alier. "Had this guy called us on Tuesday, this would have never happened. No plumber is to dig up a sewer line without a permit."

Clem said he wasn't familiar with Tarver's case, but the WWTA has done all it knows to do to get the word out about the Private Lateral Service Program.

Information about the program is included on the WWTA's website, there are public meetings about the program and public notices about it in the media, Clem said.

Meeting a Mandate

The Private Service Lateral Program is the county's answer to an unfunded state and federal mandate requiring that sewer lines that connect the street to a home or business be replaced.

Because older sewer pipes are made of clay, some of them have cracked, allowing raw sewage to leak out and rainwater to seep in. Having increased water in sewage pipes makes raw sewage harder to treat because the water increases the volume of material in the pipes.

The $8 fee generates about $2 million a year to pay for the mandated sewer repairs, Clem said. The problem is the cost is about $50 million to meet the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's mandate to test all 26,000 private service laterals and make replacements as needed within eight years, he said.

Most of the replacement work that has been done has been done on Signal Mountain, where government officials said no new subdivisions or businesses could attach to the sewer system until all the lateral lines are tested and replaced if needed.

About 15 percent of the 2,924 Signal Mountain households have been tested and the laterals replaced if needed, Clem said.

The WWTA also has replaced pipes for a few people with emergencies in other parts of the county, but Clem said the county hasn't had the money to do more.

However, Clem said the county expects to receive word within two weeks about a $10 million federal Environment Protection Agency grant to meet the demands of improving lateral sewage lines. The grant would allow the WWTA to contract with more plumbing contractors to test and repair lines for thousands of homes at a time, Clem said.

The Private Service Lateral Program is a temporary pilot program that will come to an end if the EPA money comes through, he said.

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about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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