published Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Chattanooga, WWTA tangle in sewage lawsuit

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    The wastewater treatment plant for Chattanooga is located at Moccasin Bend.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Chattanooga wants clarity about its sewage.

The city filed a lawsuit against the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority this week, asking Chancery Court to rule on a dispute about who needs to build and run some sewers.

Lawmakers planted the roots of this issue in 2001, when Hamilton County and its municipalities adopted urban growth boundaries under a state mandate. The plan outlined where cities could annex in the next 20 years.

According to an agreement, when Chattanooga took in some new land, it would have to provide a sewage system within three years. The WWTA agreed to cede control of any sewer infrastructure it had developed in those areas to the city.

Now, 12 years after that original agreement, Chattanooga has 16 newly annexed territories and its leaders say they don't know whether they have to provide sewage service.

The lawsuit claims the WWTA hasn't turned over sewers in those areas, but it also hasn't committed to keep providing the service there.

The city is asking for a chancellor to force the WWTA to announce formally whether it will provide sewage services in the 16 annexed areas.

The city also wants the court to say that the WWTA is misinterpreting the 2001 agreement.

In 2009, then-WWTA Chairman Phil Smartt wrote to Mayor Ron Littlefield that the WWTA board of directors voted to cede all its service areas within the city's urban growth boundary to Chattanooga.

Now, the city claims in its lawsuit, WWTA is interpreting the letter to mean that if Chattanooga annexes any territory, it must provide sewer services to all the property in its urban growth boundary within three years. If it doesn't, people who live in those areas may petition to be deannexed.

The city says the WWTA is pushing this idea to discourage the city from expanding by annexation.

"The WWTA apparently believes that it can create a 'poison pill,'" the lawsuit states.

When the 2009 letter was written, Mike Carter was the WWTA's attorney. Now a freshman state representative, Carter has introduced legislation that would require Chattanooga to annex all the land within its urban growth boundary before it could attempt to amend the plan and reach out for new territory not now in the boundary.

The city attorney's office and members of the WWTA board could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

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