Council approves locations for sewer system tanks, county donates land for one

Emory Valley Road Sewer System Holding Tank

An earlier draft image of what a sewer system holding tank could look like on Emory Valley Road. (Image courtesy City of Oak Ridge)

CLINTON—The Oak Ridge City Council had already taken steps to move the planned sewer system holding tanks farther back from major roads or make them less visible, and on Monday, the Anderson County Commission agreed to donate a small parcel on Emory Valley Road for one of the tanks.

Oak Ridge officials have said the tanks are needed to help comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order that requires the city to end all sewer system overflows by September 2015. [Read more...]

Council approves water, sewer rate increases

Oak Ridge City Council

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday approved water and sewer rate increases that will take effect January 2014 and January 2015. (File photo)

There was much opposition online, and in phone calls to city hall, but few public objections to back-to-back utility rate increases at a Monday night Oak Ridge City Council meeting.

The Council voted in two separate 6-1 votes to raise water and sewer rates in January 2014 and again in January 2015. The increases range from 8 percent to 15 percent.

The new rate hikes, which will be considered on second and final reading in October, would result in water bills that could go up by a minimum of $1.35 per month in January 2014 and then another $1.19 per month in 2015. Sewer bills would increase a minimum of $2.78 per month next year and then rise another $2.13 per month the following year. [Read more...]

Guest column: Council member proposes alternatives to raising water, sewer rates

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

On Sept. 9, your Oak Ridge City Council will likely vote to approve additional water and sewer rate increases. When combined with the last two increases, the average user’s bill will have spiked 62 percent in just 34 months. Subsequently, should council adopt the fully proposed schedule through 2019, most residents and businesses will be paying double what they were paying prior to the initial increase imposed in May 2012.

These increases are to pay for the $33 million of debt that the city incurred in the last two years in addition to a projected $15 million more that Public Works says is still needed. We are continuing to borrow without limits and without regard for your ability to pay such astronomical bills.

Much of this debt could have been reduced or avoided all together had your city government taken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency up on the many opportunities they gave us to make corrections. (See my Feb. 24 post at entitled, “The Rest of the EPA Mandate Story.”) Unfortunately, we’ve screwed up so many times that we were too fearful to pursue leniencies that are now being afforded to many cities across the nation. So, while others have 20-25 years to comply and can spread out costs to minimize the hit their ratepayers will take, Oak Ridge has just five years and is forcing the entire burden on its residents and businesses. [Read more...]

Council to consider utility rate increases, sewer tanks, new fire trucks

Emory Valley Road Sewer System Holding Tank

A draft image of what a sewer system holding tank could look like on Emory Valley Road east of the former Daniel Arthur Rehabilitation Center. The proposal could change based upon input from Oak Ridge City Council members. (Images courtesy City of Oak Ridge)

Oak Ridge officials are considering utility rate increases that could cost many residents another $6.87 per month, and they have also proposed building three large sewer system holding tanks, including two near busy roadways, in response to a federal order requiring the city to stop all sewer system overflows by September 2015.

Council could consider those proposals, as well as a request to buy three new fire trucks, during its Sept. 9 meeting. [Read more...]

Emory Valley Road land could be donated for Oak Ridge sewer system tank

Emory Valley Equalization Basin

Anderson County commissioners have endorsed donating up to 2.05 acres on Emory Valley Road for an Oak Ridge sewer system holding tank.

CLINTON—Despite a few concerns about whether the tank would be an eyesore, Anderson County officials on Monday endorsed a request to give up to 2.05 acres on Emory Valley Road in Oak Ridge for a sewer system holding tank.

The tank would be east of the former Daniel Arthur Rehabilitation Center, and it would be used to help Oak Ridge stop all sewer system overflows by 2015, as required by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order.

The Anderson County Commission endorsed the land donation in a voice vote Monday night. [Read more...]

TVA finishes excavating spilled coal ash at Kingston plant, starts covering disposal area

Kingston Fossil Plant Ash Spill Cleanup

Ash that spilled into the brown embayment pictured above has been removed, and workers are placing a black liner over an ash containment cell, pictured at center, preparing to close it late next year. More than 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled in December 2008 when a storage cell used by the Kingston Fossil Plant, back left, failed.

KINGSTON—It was the largest ash spill in U.S. history. A dike failed on a storage cell on a cold December night more than four years ago, and roughly 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash surged out, covering about 300 acres of land and water near the Kingston Fossil Plant.

No one was injured, but 40 homes in the area were affected. The ash filled three embayments north of the coal-fired plant, covered Swan Pond Road, and flowed into the Emory River. Three homes became uninhabitable because of structural damage.

The work to clean up the gray sludge, which had been four to six feet deep, has been under way since the Dec. 22, 2008, spill. On Friday, officials paused to celebrate two milestones in the six-year, $1.2 billion project. [Read more...]

TVA, EPA update Roane County on ash cleanup efforts

Information from WYSH Radio

On Thursday, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Tennessee Valley Authority updated Roane County residents on the ongoing cleanup efforts from the 2008 coal ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant.

The December 2008 spill dumped more than a billion gallons of coal ash sludge into the Clinch and Emory Rivers and into the surrounding community. What had been 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge is now down to about 70,000 cubic yards—or 14 million gallons—and officials expect to have the rest cleared by the end of June. [Read more...]

TVA, government agencies to give recovery update on Kingston ash spill

The Tennessee Valley Authority, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, will hold a public meeting on progress of the Kingston Ash Recovery Project and long-term monitoring plans.

The meeting will be held Thursday, May 30, from 5:30-7 p.m. in the auditorium of Roane County High School in Kingston. The auditorium is in Building B on the Spring Street side of the high school. [Read more...]

Guest column: The City Council should negotiate with EPA

At its next meeting, the Oak Ridge City Council will consider whether to attempt to negotiate a better deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the sewer upgrades or not.

About three and a half years ago, the EPA inspected the Oak Ridge sewer system and noted excessive rain water leaking into that system during storms. In April 2010, EPA sent the city a show cause letter which requested a face-to-face meeting to “show cause” why EPA should not intervene. Instead of meeting with EPA, the Council chose to phone in an informal response. Subsequently, EPA imposed a 20-page administrative order filled with expensive add-on requirements and a $170,000 civil penalty.

The total cost of the sewer improvements is in the neighborhood of $50 million. Paying for these improvements has so far required two major utility rate increases and a major increase in city debt. More rate hikes are likely.

[Read more...]

Council approves $18 million in borrowing for sewer system repairs

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

After more than an hour of discussion, the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday approved the borrowing of $18 million in low-interest state loans to help pay for a $23 million project to fix the municipal sewer system.

Council voted 6-1 to borrow the money at a 1.23 percent interest rate through the State Revolving Fund program, which is administered by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The work is being done to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order that requires Oak Ridge to repair all sewer system overflows by Sept. 28, 2015.

[Read more...]

Guest column: Researches EPA sewer order, says more work needed

Last month, Oak Ridgers were hit with a water/sewer rate increase for the second time in nine months to pay for $15 million worth of debt that you were told (incorrectly) was issued to cover a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate. On Monday night, City Council is preparing to approve another $18 million in debt for the same cause, which will result in subsequent rate increases.

A statement I received this weekend from one resident sums up the frustrations that so many of you have been sharing with me: “Utility rates (water, sewer, electrical, trash pickup, etc.) keep going up; the city and county property ‘double’ taxation is simply too much. It so happens that our group of friends and us discuss the idea of moving to other less costly vicinities nearby more often than before. We would strongly suggest that our city government start budgeting our expenditures with the money we have.”

[Read more...]

Report: Oak Ridge officials discuss wastewater issues with EPA in Atlanta

Editor’s note: The Oak Ridge City Council recently established an ad hoc subcommittee to focus on issues related to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrative order on inflow and infiltration of the city’s wastewater system. Councilman Chuck Hope, who is chairman of the subcommittee, provided the following report on its recent meeting with the EPA in Atlanta.

The subcommittee of City Council that was formed to address our EPA Administrative Order concerns, went to Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, to meet with staff from the Southeast Regional (Region 4) EPA office.

The meeting was attended by four EPA staff members: Denisse Diaz, clean water enforcement branch chief; Maurice Horsey, municipal and industrial enforcement section chief; Michele Whetherington, assistant regional counsel; and Dennis Sayre, our assigned contact in municipal and industrial enforcement.

[Read more...]