By Herb Pallatt
Special to the Chronicle
In a continuing endeavor to disseminate correct information about the new Tansi Sewer Utility District (TSUD), I would like to address some of the questions that have come to our attention. This is our effort to keep the property owners of Lake Tansi informed.
1. How did the Tansi Waste Management Inc. (TWMI) become a state public utility so fast?
After more than a year of research and preparation, the Tansi Waste Management Inc. (TWMI) petitioned the county mayor in February 2009 to become a state public utility. We followed all state of Tennessee legal processes, including open meetings. After an exhaustive review process, the state of Tennessee authorized Cumberland County Mayor Brock Hill to create the sewer utility district and appoint three unpaid board members.
Mayor Hill followed through and launched the Tansi Sewer Utility District (TSUD) in February 2010. The lengthy state process required us to post several notifications for public comment in the public media. Two public meetings were held to record public comment. All documentations required are on the Tennessee state website and were published in local newspapers. No one has ever been denied any public records requested.
2. Where does the sewer district get the power to float a bond issue?
Because the sewer district is a government entity, similar to a municipality, it has the authority to do so. The sewer district passed a resolution on Sept. 16 to float a utility revenue bond issue (similar to a municipal bond) for an amount “not to exceed” $8.5 million dollars with proceeds required to:
• Pay off the loan to the Lake Tansi POA of $1,200,000, plus accrued interest.
• Provide the required matching funds of $450K for the EPA grant of approximately $1 million announced by congressman Lincoln Davis on July 29, 2005.
• Design and construct the phase III sewer project. The ”not to exceed amount” is to account for a maximum anticipated interest and financing fees related to the bond issue. The target date to receive funds and make disbursements is Nov. 1, 2010.
4. Why was a board meeting canceled?
We have never canceled a board of commissioners scheduled meeting. All board meetings have been held as advertised.
5. Much has been said about the sewer district placing liens on properties and then taking their homes away for non-payment of sewer bills. Please respond.
The district has the authority, the same as any other utility district, to place liens on property of those not paying their sewer bills. This is to assure that the district will be able to collect past due utility bills in event the residence or commercial building changes hands (the property is sold). The district has no intention of "taking" anyone's home, nor was that ever the intent. Anyone making those statements is grossly misleading the public.
6. What was the cost of the TSUD office?
The cost for the TSUD office property and building, including all furnishings, office equipment, security and initial office supplies was $100,000.
7. Can you shut my water off if I don’t pay my sewer bill?
Under the present rules, if you don’t pay your sewer bill, a lien will be placed on the property receiving service; your water will not be affected.
8. Will that affect TSUD's ability to collect money?
Yes, to some degree, but primarily with those individuals who would not be likely to honor service agreements. We believe that the majority of our property owners recognize the value of and need for sewer service in the district and will support this new service.
9. The state of Tennessee has a funding source for municipalities and other government entities, to borrow monies with low interest extended pay back. This funding is referred to as the State Revolving Fund. (SRF) Why was TSUD not able to access the State Revolving Fund monies?
The SRF requires that the district deposit, in cash, the equivalent of one year of principal and interest, in this case, approximately $250,000. These funds would be held on deposit for the length of the loan, in this case 20 years. Additionally, the SRF rules do not allow the district to use any of the funds to pay for parts of the system already built. In other words, the district could not use SRF monies to repay the POA. Similar restrictions apply to other government agencies such as the EPA and USDA. Also, all the agencies require detailed projections to prove the ability of the District to repay the loans. Most of the federal/state monies are not direct grants. Rather they are loans or some form of loan/grant combination.
10. If the water district won’t share data on water usages how will my sewer bill be determined?
Water usage data is a matter of public record and is accessible for every connection. Other measurement methods are currently being investigated. We could meter sewage amounts and prepare bills with that data.
Summary: As president of the Tansi Sewer Utility Board of commissioners, I wish to state that I volunteered for this job because I believe our community cannot survive or prosper without cutting back on subsurface sewage managed by septic tanks.
Septic thanks were designed for very rural areas where the soil was very absorbent and there were large expanses of acreage (drain fields) to absorb and decompose waste materials. In the early years (1950s) of Lake Tansi’s development, septic tanks were installed usually on extra lots and in large expanses. As our community began to evolve, the absorption fields required for this technology became scarce and we began to see more and more “un-perkable” lots being identified in the area.
The reality of our geography is that we have chosen to live on the Cumberland Plateau, a large and gorgeous outcropping of rock that affords us with cooler weather in the hot summer, and clearly, plentiful water runs off the plateau and we are left with dryer soils. The water pours from the sky goes into the soil till it hits our rocks and then it runs off.
This unique geology results in poor “perkability” for a septic system, thus the many failures Tansi has experienced with that technology. Remember the horrible fecal stench at the 19th Hole Restaurant? Before we hooked up to the sewer, you would park your golf cart and be enveloped in sewage aromas, because the septic system was failing, not perking into the soil. It was running off into our streams and lakes. In 2005 Tennessee Tech did a water quality sampling in Lake Tansi and found high bacteria levels in Tansi’s shallower waters. You will notice extensive plant growth and algae booms in the lake indicating ”nutrient loading,” a term scientists use to describe lakes that are becoming ”aged.”
Septic tank leaking took place at our busy time share venue as well. According to Gail Boles, manager of the Crown Resorts of Hiawatha Manor, “Engineers reported that their septic systems were not perking into the ground, rather they were leaking everywhere. Without the Tansi Sewer, we would have had to shut our doors." We had sewage leaking everywhere and no “perkable ground” to extend our septic tank systems.
We had E. coli levels indicating pollution levels in Lake Hiawatha as a result of septic systems just recently. We have simply outgrown our own beautiful geology. Sewage is trickling into our soil and running into the rock base underneath and down into our waters. With such poor drain fields, the Tansi area cannot possibly prosper.
As we remove the sewage from our soils and surface waters by sending it to our treatment plant, our property values will increase, more Tansi lots will become buildable, our economic activity will improve, and lake pollution will be reduced as a result.
We are working with all community leaders to devise a plan that will remediate this problem and insure the preservation of our property values.
Please keep the questions coming and we will continue to respond.
The Tansi Sewer Utility District Board of Directors will hold a question and answer session for Nov. 4 at Brown Elementary School. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the gymnasium.
Questions for the meeting should be submitted in writing to TSUD no later than Oct. 19 by 4 p.m. Questions can be e-mailed to TSUD1@frontier.com or delivered to the district office at 7004 Ute Lane. Anonymous questions will not be accepted.