Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 1, 2010

How did the sewer problem ever get started?

By Jim Hellem

CROSSVILLE — October 2010 — In 2007 the capital improvements committee and the Lake Tansi Property Owners Association (POA) board of directors (BOD) received a positive vote from the membership to provide removal and installation of all “old” cabins, new maintenance facility and to build a new indoor pool connected to the Thunderbird. The latter has never been done, due to the lack of capital.

The old cabins were torn down awaiting the construction of new ones. We had non-written assurance that we would be able to use existing septic systems for the new cabins. In early 2008, we were advised by the state they would not grant us a building permit until a new septic system met with existing laws. We were told that our solution needed “perkable” land for new cabins plus backup duplicate acreage, should the original septic system ever fail. We found the area near the Thunderbird was perkable; however, we did not have a “backup area” in Tansi. We, the 2008 POA BOD, then looked for available acrerage of perkable land south of Tansi; however, we found it to be extremely expensive. We began our search for other options. Our research brought us to the “Bio Membrane” system for “state of art” sewer disposal.

Mid 2008, the POA board decided on the “Bio Membrane” system as the best and most economical choice for the POA amenities, with the most positive possible expansion capabilities for the future. In the fall 2008 legal counsel advised the POA board that a separate corporation should be formed to assure permit acquisition. We were warned that the state did not feel comfortable working with POA organizations in the past and we should form a “stand alone” private utility entity. In late 2008, the POA BOD approved the formation of Tansi Waste Management Inc. (TWMI) and to proceed with obtaining their charter and the necessary permits to allow the start of the sewer project. In late 2008, TWMI received permission from the state to allow them to use the existing septic systems from the old cabins for two years to operate the new cabins, while our new waste facilities were being completed.

About that same time, the POA set up a $1.2 million line of credit to pass through to TWMI to construct the new “Bio Membrane” plant and infrastructure. As work progresses, promissory notes were given to the POA with accounts payable invoices by TWMI and POA advanced these funds for continued system construction. The POA treasurer and general manager were given the approval, by the POA, to distribute these funds as needed. In mid 2009 TWMI treasurer has a number of phone conversations with state revolving fund on the availability of funds to repay the loan from Lake Tansi POA. He was told and led to believe that they had an abundance of funds, and grants, for us as soon as the system was up and running.

Crown Resorts of Lake Tansi, better known as RCI Timeshares, were having septic problems and inquired about getting on-system. Indian Hills condominiums were also having septic problems, as well as other individuals were asking TWMI and the POA, “When will the system be open to the public”? It was also noted, at that time, the county mayor was holding a $955,000 government grant for sewers to be built in Tansi; however, it was only available if TWMI applied for and received a public permit and had the matching funds of $450,000 available. The main specification was that the money be used specifically for residential customers.

Crown Resorts septic problems were increasing daily and requested TWMI to add them to the existing permit with the state. Under these circumstances, the TWMI board of directors decided to vote to upgrade the sewer system and applied to the state to add RIC to the existing permit as well as a permit to include “public” individual use.

Early in 2010, County Mayor Brock Hill held an open meeting on the sewer system for all of Tansi at the Thunderbird. Most of the Q&As were answered satisfactorily, with very few complaints. When questions were asked about the cost, the initial amount to “Go on Line” was a bit higher than the actual amount now in place. It was quoted that the monthly amount would be about $35. The folks there were not happy about this, even though it could be tolerated. They were advised that all rates are controlled by state laws. However, they were based on the $4 to $5 million they were told it would cost TSUD.

The county mayor appoints the three new commissioners to run the new public utility named Tansi Sewer Utility District (TSUD). After the public meeting scheduled by Mayor Hill, the TSUD commissioners called to get an update on the funds available. The EPA said they had a $2 million grant and another state agency had a $6.5 million dollar loan, and that, after so many payments, only $4 million would be owed. This was the basis from which the original rates were calculated.

Spring 2010 Crown Resorts (RCI) has more problems with their septic drain fields. The request to add RCI to the TWMI permit is approved by the state, and RCI starts building their infrastructure.

May 2010, the “Bio Membrane” system is up and running and POA amenities are online and using the facilities.

TSUD, as a “public utility” was now in charge. When TSUD followed up on their application to the EPA and the state for the $8.5 million promised a few months earlier, “it was gone,” spent on multiple other state programs. This left the TSUD board no choice but to look for other funding. Thus, they found their best rate would be through the bond company. No free state or federal money, as they lost the expected $4.5 million, which went for other spending. Thus, the new rates were much higher than what they had expected, up from $35 per month to $50, plus an additional $15 per month per 1,000 gallons of water use. (The average rate is $65 per month.) The other complaint is, “There is nothing wrong with my septic system, why do I need sewers”? We'll address that in another letter.

Your POA board has made up a committee to work hand-in-hand with the TSUD board. We are working to reduce the costs and provide reasonable alternatives for folks who do not want or need to be on the system right away.

Were there mistakes made along the way? Yes, but nobody can predict the future. After the first of the year, new funding could be available. We don't know. If TSUD gets some, if any, we can lower the monthly rates. But now we must get SCUD to resign the agreement with TSUD and get that bond. It may be one or two years or longer before your area would receive service. Think about it! TSUD, the POA, and, mostly, our lakes need us all to adjust our thinking. Without your help to move forward on this most important project, we could destroy the POA. Without the POA and all it's amenities, “Costs for all of us will rise while the property values will fall.”

TSUD Will be passing more information to you as soon as it is available. They have set an “open meeting” at 6 p.m. on Nov. 4, at Brown Elementary School's gymnasium.

We hope to see you there. Thank you.