By Heather Mullinix
Residents of the Lake Tansi area asked state regulators Thursday to limit the Tansi sewer system to only those amenities, businesses and residences currently receiving service, citing current legal action and the limited capacity of Lake Hiawatha.
Mary Aggers said, "I would like to see this permit go back to the 50,000 gallons, back to serving the [Lake Tansi Village Property Owners Association] amenities, RCI and, certainly, the few homes that are hook up today, and leave us alone."
Wade Murphy, permit writer with the Tennessee Division of Water Pollution Control, explained the state could issue a permit to operate the sewer treatment facility and include conditions and restrictions on that operation, including the amount of discharge treated wastewater permitted.
"There is a sewer plant operating. It is serving amenities. The law says if you are going to operate a sewer system, you have to apply for a permit with conditions that are sufficient to protect water quality," Murphy said. "We will have to issue that permit to someone as long as there is a wastewater treatment plant there."
The current permit allows for discharge of up to 300,000 gallons a day, though Murphy said the treatment facility had a capacity of about 50,000 gallons a day and had an average flow of 10,000 gallons a day.
Horace Wyatt showed Murphy photos from Lake Hiawatha, which was a 16.5-acre lake with a depth of about 12 feet when it was made about 30 years ago. Over time, silt has filled in some of the lake, making it more shallow and, according to some estimates, a 13 to 14-acre lake.
"You can see stuff on top of the water," Wyatt said. "Best we can find out, they're putting about 21,000 gallons on an average day. They're permitted for 300,000 and the plant can only put out about 50,000 gallons. If they get much more than that, you'll be able to walk across that lake."
Aggers added, "They have a permit for 300,000 gallons. Do you know how much water that is in that little lake? The next part of this 300,000 gallons of effluent per day, that permit states they can put a million gallons of water per day on your golf course. At that rate, you're going to have a paddle boat out there because you're not going to have a golf course."
Murphy said he had driven by Lake Hiawatha, which is where treated wastewater is discharged. It is held there for use in golf course irrigation with only limited discharge downstream allowed. The water from Lake Hiawatha is discharged into a stream that feed Lake Mohawk and then could be discharged into an unnamed tributary of Byrd Creek, which flows into Cumberland Mountain State Park. Discharges are allowed during the winter months of November through March and in the summer if there is a significant rain event. Murphy explained the creek biology could handle intermittent discharges. That would not be the case if there was more treated wastewater being released into the streams.
"In our state water quality standards, which are promulgated to implement the act, we have to be in the business of maintaining water quality," Murphy said. "Byrd Creek is a small stream and already has water quality issues. It goes into Cumberland Mountain State Park and is considered an exceptional Tennessee water because it has a higher social resource value because it's in a state park. The permit is primarily a reuse permit and only a secondary discharge permit in response to rain event. We told the people who applied for the permit and the design firm that it's going to have to be that way."
The department must consider the effect of water discharge on downstream waters. He noted the system at Tansi uses a bio-reactor membrane, which provides a high level of treatment with few remaining pollutants, though there are some nutrients.
"It works great for the amenities, because they generate the most water during the summer and it's used on the golf course," Murphy said. "But, we told them, because there was always an interest by someone at the POA to tie houses on, we said we're not going to do it as long as you're a POA.
"But, our concern about tying houses on, sure, it could handle a few. But there's no way it could serve every lot at Lake Tansi on a January day and not have a downstream discharge. We said whoever operates the sewer, the mission before them in the future is to figure out how to reuse that water so that it's not going to downstream water. We have to do that to uphold the state anti-degredation provisions. That is a limiting factor in itself on how much this sewer can grow."
Another issue is pipes connecting Lake Hiawatha to Lake Tansi, allowing for transfer of water from one lake to another when necessary for golf course irrigation. Murphy said there was no mention of transferring water from Hiawatha to Tansi in the permit and, if that is something the sewer system wants to do, it needs to be considered.
The state first issued a permit to operate a sewer system at Lake Tansi Aug. 31, 2009. That permit was issued to the POA to serve amenities. The permit was modified Sept. 21, 2009, transferring the permit to Tansi Waste Management, Inc. and modified again Dec. 22, 2009, to serve the Hiawatha Manor timeshare units operated by RCI. At that time, the conditions of the permit excluded service to single family residential units.
"The state has learned, over many years, that if you are going to serve single family residences and make it work, you really need to be in the sewer business," Murphy said. "The law doesn't preclude issuing the POA a permit to operate the sewer system. But, as an example, if the POA has a permit to operate a sewer system for the amenities and they don't maintain the system, it's causing pollution, we can step in with enforcement and telling the POA you can't operate these amenities.
"We're not putting anybody out of their houses. But, when you're a homeowner living in a house that you have a deed to and you have water service and have sewer service, you depend on that sewer to work. If this is going to go back to the POA or some other entity and serve single family residences, we're going to want some assurance they are in the sewer business in some way."
The operating permit was transferred to the Tansi Sewer Utility District Sept. 2, 2010. It was modified to allow for residential service.
Jean VeVeenstra asked if the state would allow the permit to return to the POA should TSUD be dissolved through one of the various lawsuits currently working their way through the court system.
"If the utility district goes away, would the state permit the POA to run the sewer for just the POA amenities, plus the few homes that are already hooked up to the sewer line?" she asked.
Murphy said, "I can't take the permit away from this utility that already has it, but if that should change, that's a fact we'll work with."
The POA filed suit Sept. 23 against Tansi Waste Management, Inc. and Tansi Sewer Utility District seeking default judgement on loans of $1.3 million used to construct the sewer treatment facility and collection system. According to the lawsuit, only $187,438.15 has been repaid and interest and penalties continue to accrue. That suit seeks to void the action transferring the sewer facility to TSUD and the transfer of operating permits.
Murphy said he was aware of the lawsuits and the staff attorney was reviewing that information but, ultimately, the Division of Water Pollution Control would have to abide by the decision of the courts in the matter.
Other concerns shared at the meeting included the cost of the availability fees, hook up fees and monthly service charges. Under the rules and regulations of TSUD, homes within 500 feet of the sewer line would be required to pay the availability fee and, even if the residence did not take service, would be charged the monthly service fee. The availability fee was set at $1,500 with the cost of hooking up to service estimated at $5,950. The minimum monthly service fee was to be $50, with additional charges for water usage above 2,500 gallons a month.
One speaker shared Census information showing the average income in Tansi was below the state average and more than half the residents had yearly incomes less than $35,000 with 12 percent of the senior citizens lived below the poverty level.
Mary Kirkland said she was disabled and had an income of only $8,000 to $9,000 a year.
"I can't make it and pay these fees," she said.
Many took issue with the way the utility district was formed, saying the people should have had more of a voice in the process. Some said a vote should have been taken.
Michelle Palmer said, "I think most of us are really upset not just about the cost but because we feel this was done unethically. It was done behind our backs. It was done without any consent or approval from us. We were aware it was for the amenities originally, then we were aware RCI was added, but I don't think most of us were aware when it went to TSUD that it was going to be forced on us."
Others had purchased homes within the past three years and said they received no disclosure notice of any pending encumbrances on their homes.
Interested persons can still provide written testimony and comments regarding the permit through Oct. 17. Emails may be sent to Wade.Murphy@tn.gov, or comments can be mailed to Division of Water Pollution Control, 401 Church St., L&C Annex, Sixth Floor, Nashville, TN 37243.