published Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield: Now's the time to consolidate sewers


by Cliff Hightower
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Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said he thinks the recent order handed down by federal authorities regarding Chattanooga's sewer system helps spur the need for a consolidation of water and sewer utilities.

"It sets the stage," said Littlefield.

The city was ordered last week by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to conduct an estimated $250 million in repairs to the city's sewer system over the next 16 years.

The city also was hit with $1.2 million in penalties after it made a deal with federal regulators to fix a sewer system that has dumped more than 354 million gallons of raw sewage into the Tennessee River since 2005.

For years, Littlefield has been pushing consolidation of the utilities, and he said Monday he has talked with local officials from Tennessee American Water and the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority about creating some type of alliance.

Vince Butler, spokesman for Tennessee American Water, said the utility is "always willing to talk to the city about water-related issues."

But "Tennessee American Water has never had any talks with the city about an alliance," he said.

The WWTA is a county department, and County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he would also be willing to talk about any type of consolidation if it saves taxpayer money. But he hasn't been involved in any discussions, either, he said.

"I haven't had a chance to talk to Mayor Littlefield at all," he said.

Littlefield, who leaves office next year, said that over the next eight months the city will try to lay a solid foundation for the next mayor to work with on the sewer issues. The next mayor should not have to deal with water quality, or stormwater mandates or hiking fees, he said.

"The next mayor shouldn't have to deal with EPA orders," he said. "That's resolved."

Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said the council's responsibility will be to get some of the projects started by approving the money for them. That process started two weeks ago when an engineering firm was hired to help guide Chattanooga through the process, she said.

"We have pretty much laid the foundation," she said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/cliff.hightower.

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