PHOTO: Alderman Brian Stover (left) and Mayor Corey Napier (right) during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Discussions were heated Tuesday night as the Thompson’s Station Board of Mayor and Aldermen continued to debate over how to properly repair one of the town’s wastewater treatment lagoons, which has faced sludge and leakage problems for close to a decade.
Located just off of Columbia Pike and south of Nutro Dog Park, Cell One of the town’s current wastewater treatment plant was discovered to have a leak roughly a decade ago. The town moved all water from Cell One to Cell Two, only for Cell Two to have a catastrophic failure, leading the town to prioritize that over Cell One’s repair. To this day, Cell One has not been fully repaired.
As it stands, the town staff is faced with two options; either repair just a particular area of the lagoon, in anticipation of it being decommissioned in the coming years to make way for a new type of wastewater treatment plant, or conduct a full replacement of the liner of the lagoon. With the latter option, costs would be significantly higher.
The majority of the board argued in favor of the first option; repairing just a portion of the lagoon, citing a lack of evidence of further damage.
During the meeting, wastewater operator for the town, Kenny Bond, presented his findings to the board, saying he doesn’t believe there to be any evidence of a tear in the liner of the lagoon, and that he would recommend only fixing the particular portion of the lagoon.
Additionally, Matthew Johnson with Barge Design Solutions, an engineering firm working with the town, shared Bond’s sentiments.
Alderman Ben Dilks strongly disagreed with the validity of the findings, citing multiple examples, he believed, that point to the damage being more extensive than suggested.
First, Dilks pointed to a study provided by First Response Environmental Group, a vendor the town had tasked with draining Cell One. The report suggested the damage to the lagoon to be far more extensive than what an isolated repair job could fix.
The report’s credibility was called into question by the rest of the board. The vendor had failed to adequately complete the draining, leading some aldermen to believe the report was merely an excuse for the failure to complete the work. Bond called the company “the most “incompetent group” he’d ever seen.
Aldermen Brian Stover and Brandon Bell also didn’t find the study to be credible, with Stover saying “they were found numerous times not even doing anything,” and that he doesn’t “find what they found, or what they said, credible at all.”
Dilks agreed that First Response Environmental Group could have had a vested interest in providing an excuse as to why the draining was not completed. However, he continued to cite other examples as to why an isolated repair to the lagoon wouldn’t cut it.
Dilkes mentioned a series of aerial photos that were taken last year that had shown that aerators in the lagoon had shifted from their original location. Aerators are are devices that are responsible for increasing the oxygen supply to a body of water. The aerators in Cell One are connected to large pieces of concrete, that Dilks argues, would have had to drag along the liner of the lagoon to have drifted, possibly creating tears in the liner.
“If you look at aerial photographs of Cell One, you can see how [the aerators] were completely dislodged,” Dilks said. “Each of those aerators sits on a concrete pad that weighs a few hundred pounds – if you drag a couple hundred pounds of concrete across the bottom of a plastic liner, what do you think could happen?”
Dilks also referenced a news article from the Times Free Press, in which the city director for Chattanooga was held criminally responsible for a sewage spill. He said, “We aren’t just financially liable, we are personally liable, and could be criminally charged if we ignore facts.”
Bell called the showing of the article “scare tactics,” and said the evidence Dilks had provided was not conclusive enough to warrant a full repair of the lagoon.
“There’s huge risk here in not knowing the what the exact problem is before we try and fix this thing,” Dilks responded. “I’ll say it again; you’re foolish and reckless to move forward with just repairing the [particular section].”
Dilks also said that residents would likely see their sewer fees doubled due to decommissioning Cell One so soon. He added that it would be a $10 million write-down for the city, and would need to be recouped through other means.
“You’re essentially voting to decommission this Cell One in two years and go move forward with a [new sewer system],” Dilks said. “That’s the plan, that’s what you’re voting for.”
“You want to have it both ways apparently, Alderman Dilks,” responded Mayor Corey Napier. “You want to claim the sky is falling, and then you want to savage us for suggesting an alternative, and for being transparent with the public about what’s ahead for us.”
“So you’re advocating a half-assed solution to a problem that we have reason to believe is much bigger…” Dilks said.
“We’re not here to debate on the discussion tonight,” Napier responded.
Ultimately, the vote on whether to go forward with the isolated repair option was deferred. In the coming weeks, the board will hold a special session to gather more concrete evidence as to the lagoon’s condition.