By Heather Mullinix
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has filed a lawsuit against the owner of an apartment complex in Lake Tansi Village alleging failure of a subsurface sewage disposal system and seeking to force connection of the apartments to the available Tansi Sewer Utility District sewer service.
The property owners, however, answered the suit, claiming complaints of a waterlogged golf course are the result of the Lake Tansi POA's failure to maintain proper drainage in the area and not allowing him access to an easement to perform maintenance and repairs on the system.
The state's suit was filed Feb. 25, 2013, in Cumberland County Chancery Court by District Attorney Randall York and Robert N. Cox, environmental legal counsel for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Named in the suite are Dana Lee and Sharon Kay Crockett, owners of 24 condominium units on Country Club Dr. in Lake Tansi.
According to the state's lawsuit, the property has experienced intermittent but chronic failure of sewage to the surface for the past 20 years.
The Crocketts deny this allegation in their response.
The suit also notes soils consultant Andrew Brown evaluated the area of the 16th fairway where the original system field lines are located, on Jan. 19, 2001, and reported, "The area in which the SSDS system is currently installed is unsuitable for the installation of additional SSDS lines due to soil compaction, existing irrigation lines and existing saturated field lines."
The Crocketts responded they lack knowledge or information of this claim, but state that if the soil is unsuitable, as referenced in the report, it "is due to the tortuous interference with the defendants' easement rights by the Lake Tansi Property Owners Association which has (1) discharged excessive amounts of water from its irrigation lines onto defendants' easement, (2) has failed to properly maintain a leaking dam 16th and 17th fairway, and to repair and maintain drainage on the 16th and 17th fairway and other areas adjacent to defendants' easement causing accumulation of excess amounts of water onto the defendants' easement and (3) has failed to properly maintain a French drain causing accumulation of excess amounts of water onto the defendants' easement."
Several repairs have been completed on the system since 1997, including a July 2002 repair that added several field lines near the 16th green. The original field lines are at the far end of the 16th fairway. A flow splitter is installed that can direct subsurface sewage disposal to either field area.
A repair permit application was also issued in 2004.
In September 2010, a complaint was made that the system was failing. Another complaint was received in February 2011. The Division of Ground Water Protection found no failure when inspecting the system following each complaint.
In March 2011, another complaint of failure on the 16th fairway was received and a March 14, 2011, inspection found sewage was standing on the surface above the chamber lines of the system near, but not in, the fairway field lines. Crockett was mailed a notice of violation dated April 13, 2011. A repair permit was issued in May 2011. On June 30, 2011, division personnel found the system was failing at the end of the chamber lines installed in the previous repair, the new area of field lines. A repair of the system was done and inspected.
Another complaint was received March 22, 2012, and division personnel state they observed sewage surface failure on the 16th fairway above the defendants' field lines. A notice of violation was issued to the Crocketts.
A letter dated April 5, 2012, notified the Crocketts that sewer service was now available and no further repair permits would be issued and he was required to connect to the sewer service.
An inspection June 7, 2012, found effluent surfacing at the end of line three of the chamber system, in the repair area near the 16th green. A second area on the fairway was damp and also photographed. A visit July 13, 2012, again found sewage effluent was flowing from one or more of the defendants' chamber lines into a drain that carried the flow across the 17th fairway. Division personnel continued to observe sewage failure and receive complaints over the next several months.
A dye trace was conducted Jan. 7, 2013, by the Division of Water Resources. Dye tracing is used to identifying whether a particular sewage disposal system is the source of a sewage failure to the surface. At that time, it was noted the valve that directs flow of effluent was set so that all material was being routed to field lines on the 16th fairway. It was verified the valve had been set that way since October 2012. The division personnel noted engineer's plans called for 65 percent of the effluent to be discharged to the chamber system and only 35 percent was to go to the original system on the fairway and they reset the valve.
An inspection of the field line area on the fairway found sewage on top of the ground along a portion of the field lines.
On a return visit Jan. 8, no dye was observed above the 16th green chamber field line, but the suit states effluent was flowing freely from the third line of the chamber system. On Jan. 9, races of dye were beginning to show at the end of the third chamber line and was observed surfacing in various areas near the third line of the chamber system on Jan. 10.
"The visual results of the dye test confirmed that the source of the sewage failure on the Lake Tansi golf course is the effluent from the defendants' subsurface sewage disposal system."
In their answer, the Crocketts state, "Defendants aver department personnel failed to follow proper protocol for dye testing and dosed the system with excessive amounts of dye flooding the system beyond the protocol specifications producing inappropriate test conclusions."
According to the suit, "The continuing failure of sewage from the defendants' field lines to the surface constitutes a health hazard to those who use the golf course and nearby lot owners. The division seeks an order of injunctive relief, compelling the defendants to connect to the Lake Tansi utility which now runs adjacent to their property lines and is available and accessible, in order to stop the health hazard."
The Crocketts state the sewer line is not a line of the sewer utility district, but a private line serving the adjacent RCI properties, which are now connected to the utility. They also state that connection of their property to the TSUD sewer system would result in the wastewater treatment plant exceeding its permitted capacity of 50,000 gallons per day.
Also, the Crocketts state their septic system is not failing but, at the least, may require routine maintenance, but they state the POA has denied them access to the easement since December 2010.
"Rather, assuming without admitting that there is any unlawful discharge from the defendants' system, it may be due to the defendants' lack of access to the system to perform routine maintenance of the manifold system by checking [cleaning out] the hard-line from the splitter box to the manifolds of the individual lines.
"The part of the system complained of by the state [line three of the chamber system] constitutes only one-sixth of the entire system."
The Crocketts state they have been denied access to perform routine maintenance on the system by the POA, prompting a lawsuit against the POA filed Aug. 24, 2011, which sought an injunction to prevent the POA from interfering with the use, maintenance and enjoyment of the easement to the property described as the fairway 16th hole in the area between the two golf cart paths separating the 16th green 17th hole tee box.
The Crocketts have also filed a motion to consolidate the lawsuit filed by the state with the lawsuit they filed against the POA in August 2011, and have filed a motion to amend its complaint against the POA, stating, that the "Lake Tansi Village Property Owners Association, Inc. maliciously, wantonly, intentionally and negligently deprived the instant defendants' of their lawful easement rights and violated the settlement agreement" in a case the state brought against a previous owner of the property. The state responded the only issue involved in its litigation is whether the sewer system has failed and is discharging waste on the golf course.