CHURCH HILL — If Mount Carmel decides to turn over its ailing sewer system to a neighboring municipality, its only option will be Kingsport, based on a conversation Church Hill Mayor Dennis Deal had with his Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week.
One main topic of the Mount Carmel BMA monthly workshop on Thursday evening will be the discussion of repairing the sewer treatment plant versus seeking a partnership with a neighboring community to treat the city’s sewage.
City Manager Mike Housewright told the Times News that Mount Carmel’s plant, which is well into its third decade of operation, is facing as much as $600,000 worth of repairs to address immediate deficiencies identified by a recent state inspection.
Another $13 million to $15 million worth of capital improvements will be needed over the next 20 years, Housewright added.
An alternative would be paying off sewer debt with the current fund balance and using what’s left to connect Mount Carmel’s sewer system with either Church Hill or Kingsport.
Deal told his BMA during a Feb. 4 special called meeting, however, that the Church Hill sewer treatment plant is off the table.
Deal said he was part of a conference call last month with Mount Carmel’s Housewright and the engineering firm of Vaughn and Melton, which was hired to advise Mount Carmel on its sewer treatment plant.
“They want to send their sewer to the city of Church Hill,” Deal told his board. “They asked me was we interested, and I told them no. The reason I told them no is we have an industrial park down here, and we are at 40% capacity of our sewer. They’re in trouble up there, folks.”
Deal also noted that Church Hill’s sewer treatment plant has to be able to handle whatever the factories at Phipps Bend throw at it.
“I hear they’re looking at Kingsport, and I really don’t care, because our sewer plant is probably 30 years old,” Deal said. “As a matter of fact, we’re replacing things currently right now. If that sewer plant don’t run, them people down there (at Phipps Bend) don’t work.”
One of the biggest immediate problems for the Mount Carmel facility is the lack of a screening system to keep solids from tearing up equipment such as pumps. On Jan. 28, the BMA tabled discussion of purchasing new screens, estimated at $150,000 for the hardware alone.
That’s expected to be discussed again at Thursday’s workshop, which begins at 5 p.m. at Mount Carmel City Hall.
Deal added, “We have to protect our city. We have to protect our assets. There’s a lot of environmental in sewer. We have a pre- treatment coordinator. I’d say I have one-two meetings a week over sewer. It’s very critical. Once that goes through our plant, we discharge in the river, so that’s a big deal to this town. What we’re constantly looking at is infiltration.”
If Mount Carmel were to choose to contract its sewer treatment, it could eliminate the existing $350,000 debt on its treatment plant using the sewer fund balance, which is roughly $1.5 million.
Deal said a conversation he had with the city’s auditor wasn’t encouraging about taking over a neighboring sewer system.
“Our auditor told me every municipality that’s ever done that has gone in the hole,” Deal told his board. “I don’t think it’s fair. Our taxpayers paid to build that plant over there, and they’re still paying for it. We’re in very good shape financially over that plant. We could write a check tomorrow and pay that sewer plant off and still have close to a million dollars left. But trust me, with a sewer plant a million dollars is very little money.”
Deal added, “Why would be take on another municipality and have to raise the rates on the taxpayers? That’s not fair.”