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December 13, 2018

Position Statement on Hamilton County’s Proposed Wastewater Treatment Plant

Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® presented the following statement at the December 12th meeting of the Hamilton County Commission.

In recent weeks there have been discussions regarding the proposed wastewater treatment plant in North Hamilton County. The Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® would like to start by thanking all parties involved for engaging in a healthy discussion about such an important issue regarding Hamilton County’s future. Our mission is to “promote the highest ethical and professional standards and cooperation among its members; provide products, programs, and services to meet the evolving needs of the real estate industry and consumers; and advocate for private property rights and community involvement.” Prior to making a formal statement, we felt it necessary to thoroughly research and evaluate all information in order to make an educated decision about the issue of a new wastewater treatment plant.

State Wastewater Report Card
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) periodically issues infrastructure report cards for each state. Included in those reports are individual grades for various infrastructure categories including wastewater. Unfortunately, the State of Tennessee received a “D+ Grade” in the category of wastewater due to aging infrastructure. A “D Grade or Poor Grade” is considered “At Risk” and is defined as “The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of significant concern with strong risk of failure” (“2016 Tennessee Infrastructure Report Card.” ASCE's 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017, www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/tennessee/.). This report card is not only a concern as it applies to the State of Tennessee but based on information released by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) is indicative of the situation in Hamilton County. 

Impact on Future Development 
WWTA has stated that new wastewater infrastructure is necessary in order to provide future services for the anticipated growth planned for the North Hamilton County area as well as provide some relief to ongoing wastewater issues in Hamilton County. We are in agreement with this assessment. As we all know, infrastructure is key to growth and development to any community and typically has a positive impact on a community through increased property values. We believe that new wastewater infrastructure is necessary to stimulate development in this desirable area of Hamilton County. As job opportunities grow so does the need for additional housing and based on assessments, North Hamilton County is the desirable area for future growth.

In addition, the moratorium implemented by TDEC in the Ooltewah region raises concerns of the negative impact that will continue to affect the future of development in this area if wastewater infrastructure is not updated to meet demand. If industries are looking to develop in Hamilton County, a moratorium could cause them to look elsewhere again resulting in a loss of job opportunities and tax revenue. If a new wastewater treatment plant could alleviate the issues that have caused a moratorium to be put in place, then it is important that we consider that to be a positive impact on Hamilton County. Once again, a new wastewater treatment plant appears to be an important key to satisfying these concerns.

Projections from the 2016 Regional Planning Agency Study shows that an increase of 1,521 homes in the area of Highway 58/Harrison and Northeast County Areas combined is expected through the year 2026 (“Hamilton County Real Estate Market Study.” CHCRPA, The Chattanooga Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency (RPA), Nov. 2016, chcrpa.org/index.php/project/hamilton-county-realestate-market-study/.). The WWTA has estimated that it will take approximately five (5) to seven (7) years to complete construction of a new wastewater treatment plant. In the past five (5) years, home inventory numbers in Hamilton County have decreased from 3,283 homes in October 2014 to 1,631 homes in October 2018. It is our fear that the longer Hamilton County delays this project the greater the risk of delaying and potentially losing future development opportunities in this area. This loss of development opportunities potentially means much-needed tax dollars going elsewhere, which Hamilton County cannot afford to have happen.

Murfreesboro Wastewater Treatment Plant
During our research, we discovered a wastewater treatment plant in the vicinity of a residential area in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We reached out to individuals in the Murfreesboro area regarding their wastewater treatment plant and whether they could provide information regarding surrounding properties. Although the treatment plant was built first, and the upscale homes were built later, it is our understanding that properties closer to the plant as well as downwind have appreciated significantly over time. Based on the information provided, the wastewater treatment plant no longer appears to be an issue of concern in the Murfreesboro area. 

Proposed Wastewater Treatment Plant
Regarding the proposed location of the wastewater treatment plant, information provided by WWTA outlines the extensive work performed over the past year to determine the best and most cost-effective site. According to WWTA other sites did not meet necessary pre-requisites and would increase project costs due to topography, archaeological, environmental, and geotechnical issues associated with those properties. It is important that the effect on all customers impacted is considered when analyzing this project. This includes the approximately 3,300 current WWTA customers (homes) that will benefit directly by the wastewater treatment plant as well as the other WWTA customers that reside outside this region. As costs increase, the burden would be placed on all WWTA customers and not just those living in the vicinity of the new wastewater treatment plant.

In addition, much has been discussed as to why WWTA has not provided specific information to the public regarding the design and technology for the proposed new wastewater treatment plant. After speaking to both WWTA and TDEC, we have been informed that it is very difficult to provide specific details regarding the proposed plant at this point. TDEC referred to the fact that WWTA is in “no man’s land” in the sense that they are limited on what details they know at this point especially since the property has not been formally purchased. According to TDEC once the property is purchased then WWTA and TDEC will work in conjunction to make all decisions necessary to finalize the details for the wastewater treatment plant.
 
It is important that we evaluate all the benefits from a new wastewater treatment plant. One positive impact that has not been discussed regarding the new wastewater treatment plant is the creation of new jobs. It is our understanding that approximately 20-25 new jobs will be created once the plant becomes operational and this does not include new jobs created during construction of the plant. The more jobs we create in Hamilton County the bigger economic impact we have on our community. 

As always, the Greater Chattanooga REALTORS® are available to assist consumers, WWTA, and Hamilton County in any way possible regarding the future of the wastewater treatment plant. Again, the purpose of this statement is to reiterate that the need for a wastewater treatment plant is crucial to the continued development and success of Hamilton County. Our goal as stakeholders is to have a positive impact on our community and the citizens who reside within its boundaries, and not just today, but years to come. The dire nature of our current wastewater infrastructure and the knowledge that a new wastewater treatment plant is necessary for the future of North Hamilton County is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

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