City of Franklin pushes back against Harpeth Conservancy water pollution bill


City of Franklin pushes back against Harpeth Conservancy water pollution bill

PHOTO: The Harpeth River, seen from the Judson E. Mount Memorial Bridge in downtown Franklin during a 2018 snow storm / Photo by Brooke Wanser.

By BROOKE WANSER

In response to a local environmental group’s sponsored water pollution bill pertaining to the Harpeth River, the City of Franklin released a statement Thursday, saying the legislation would hinder current treatment efforts.

City leaders have condemned the Harpeth Conservancy for “propaganda,” calling the bill a “cheap publicity stunt.”

Reps. John Ray Clemmons and Bo Mitchell, both D-Nashville, and Sen. Jeff Yarbo are sponsoring the legislation in the house and senate. The terms of the bill insist on setting a limit for the amount of pollutants water treatment plants can discharge, affecting Franklin.

The conservancy said they support the legislation as it pertains to the “threat” of Franklin’s soon-to-be-built wastewater treatment plant. The plant is currently in the bidding stages.

But the city says the wastewater treatment plant will not harm the river.

In 2017, the treatment facility received a new discharge permit reducing the levels of nutrients the city can put into the Harpeth River by 60 percent.

The permit limits were developed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation over the course of many months with input from stakeholders including the Harpeth Conservancy, the city contends.

“Franklin’s drive for high level stewardship of the Harpeth River is not a result of pressure from lawsuits or editorials in the newspaper,” Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said in a release.

“It is part of the culture within the organization and is supported by professionals that have committed their careers to serving the community. Meanwhile, the Harpeth Conservancy continues to play politics and try to delay a project that will benefit the river and the ratepayers and residents of Franklin, while the city does work to improve water quality and save our citizens millions of dollars,” Moore continued.

The Harpeth Conservancy has a history of skirmishes with the city.

In 2014, the conservancy brought a lawsuit against the city, claiming the Franklin was not in compliance with state terms for the city sewage treatment plant. The plant is the largest source of permitted discharge going into the Harpeth River. The suit was later settled, though back and forth litigation between the city and the conservancy ensued.

The city rebuts claims of negligence concerning the river, noting several instances of good stewardship of the natural resource.

  • Removal of the low-head dam
  • Various stream restoration projects
  • Development of constructed wetlands for water quality and flood control
  • Providing sanitary sewer service to over 600 homes with aging and failing septic systems
  • Identification and reporting of the illicit discharge by Egyptian Lacquer into the Harpeth River
  • Completion of an Integrated Water Resource Plan (IWRP), the first of its kind in the State of Tennessee.  Franklin’s IWRP includes a holistic, long-term view of water, wastewater, reclaimed water and storm water needs within the community over the next 30 years. This includes extensive modeling of the Harpeth River.

“Staff has truly worked to be a good partner with all community stakeholders including the Harpeth Conservancy, yet they continue to fight against the city and its citizens,” Moore said. “The city will continue our focus on protecting the river based on science and modeling of impact on the Harpeth River. The truth is that Harpeth Conservancy is not a serious contributor to the important work of understanding and protecting the river. This sort of cheap publicity stunt proves it.”

The Harpeth Conservancy was founded in 1999 with the mission of restoring and protecting clean water and healthy ecosystems for rivers in Tennessee by using scientific means.

According to a press release from the organization, the Harpeth Conservancy has raised nearly $150,000 in private dollars since 2013.

The Harpeth River is a state scenic river, flowing 125 miles throughout several counties from its source in Eagleville.

To read the bill’s fiscal note, click here.

About The Author

Brooke Wanser is the associate editor for the Franklin Home Page, and can be reached at brooke.wanser@homepagemediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BWanser_writes or @FranklinHomepg.

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