published Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

East Ridge says it could profit from its own sewer authority

East Ridge officials say they quickly could profit from running their own sewer lines and splitting from the county sewer authority, which has handled the city's sewage for over a decade.

During a two-hour meeting Monday night, councilmen and residents hashed out some of their initial questions and concerns surrounding a possible split from the Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority.

Of the half-dozen East Ridge residents who spoke during the hearing, none was in direct support or opposition to the idea of the city forming its own WWTA.

"This is a tough call. Can we do it better? Can we do it cheaper? I don't know," said resident Larry Clarkson. "There's possible mandates out there that we don't even know about. We may have problems coming along that may make life very difficult."

Mayor Brent Lambert said the city has not received any documentation from the WWTA about its revenues and expenses for East Ridge lines.

But according to a 2010 evaluation of the city's sewer system conducted by Miller-McCoy Consulting Engineers, the WWTA collects between $3.4 million and $3.8 million from East Ridge customers and spends about $1.8 million of that on treatment fees.

"Their estimates show that the WWTA is profiting from city of East Ridge," Lambert said.

City Attorney John Anderson, who was formerly an attorney for the WWTA, said a city-operated authority could be "moving into a positive range right off the bat," according to the Miller-McCoy analysis.

The city makes up over one-third of the water authority's customer base, the analysis shows.

No WWTA representatives were identified at the hearing, though city officials said they had been invited and director Cleveland Grimes said Monday afternoon he was aware of the meeting.

"The WWTA is not in a dispute or feud with the city of East Ridge," Grimes said, referring all further questions to the authority's attorney.

Attorney Chris Clem could not be reached for further comment. He has maintained in previous statements to the newspaper that the city cannot legally take back the system, and does not have the resources to run the aging lines.

The discussion about separating from the WWTA was sparked this spring after WWTA's board voted to conduct a study to decide whether to increase East Ridge's rates.

That move came after East Ridge decided to enforce a $200 fee every time the utility company cut into city streets.

The WWTA has not yet decided whether to increase the city's sewer rates. Its next meeting is Wednesday.

The council plans to discuss the matter further in its next agenda session May 24.

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