MOUNT CARMEL — Sometime in the near future, city leaders will have to decide if they want to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their sewer treatment plant to keep it going in the short term, and millions in the long term, or seek an alternative solution from a neighboring city.
City Manager Mike Housewright told the Times News on Friday that Mount Carmel’s sewer treatment 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.
“That’s just to get us limping along again,” Housewright said. “That’s just kind of going through and checking things off of the violations that we have (such as) lack of some kind of debris removal system at the head of the plant. ... When you don’t have that, it causes increased wear and tear throughout the rest of your plant. That’s probably our biggest problem right now.
“Outside that, there’s general equipment maintenance that has not been performed and repairs that have not been made at the time that things broke down. There’s general repairs all over the plant that need to be done as well.”
Another $13 million to $15 million worth of capital improvements will be needed over the next 20 years, Housewright added.
“When we talk about that, that’s not just to get us out of the corner we’ve painted ourselves in (with current violations) but rather to set us up to be successful long term,” he said.
Before approving such a huge investment, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen may choose to solicit proposals from both Kingsport and Church Hill for connecting to their sewer treatment plants and compare the costs, Housewright said.
“Right now it’s more along the lines of having conversations to gauge interest in regionalization, partnering with neighboring communities for the treatment,” he said. “If that level of interest is there, the question then becomes, ‘What does it look like?’ There is an increasing trend in the state of smaller municipalities contracting services with larger municipalities.”
If Mount Carmel were to choose to contract its sewer treatment, it could eliminate the exiting $350,000 debt on its treatment plant using the sewer fund balance, which is currently sitting at roughly $1.5 million.
“What could potentially happen if regionalization was to occur is that we begin a process by which we pay off the sewer debt and then use the remaining funds to build out our system to join a neighboring community,” Housewright said.
The sewer system was a lengthy topic of discussion during Thursday’s BMA meeting, although the majority of the conversation related to an unadvertised meeting that Vice Mayor Tresa Mawk had reportedly scheduled involving two other aldermen and former sewer plant manager Fred Arnold.
City Attorney John Pevy told the BMA on Thursday that upon hearing about the meeting, he contacted Mawk and advised her to cancel it because of a potential Sunshine Law violation, which she did.
There was, however, a document that Mawk reportedly distributed to some other aldermen that Pevy indicated would be another Sunshine Law violation. The document contained sewer plant-related drawings, questions and information written by Arnold.
To satisfy Sunshine Law requirements, Pevy read the contents of that document into the public record during Thursday’s meeting. That information can be seen in a video of the meeting that is included in the online version of this article at timesnews.net.
Mawk said her intention was to educate herself and other aldermen about the sewer plant in light of the major decisions the BMA will have to make.
“I have been trying to gather as much information and gather as much knowledge as possible about the operations of the sewer plant because of what repairs might happen,” Mawk said. “I have talked to Gary Lawson, Fred Arnold, Jim Hurd, Steve Epperson, MTAS, TDEC and the boys at the sewer plant. I asked Fred Arnold if he would be willing to come to a meeting.”
Mawk also expressed her objection to a social media post made by Alderman Mindy Fleishour that stated, among other things, “The power trips, egos, the secret meetings, rumors, blatant disregard for the Sunshine Law, the whole I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine ... this is all DIRTY POLITICS and they should be ashamed.”
Mawk said: “There are people here who have not demonstrated that they want, or are trying to find out like I am. I asked Fred if he would be willing to meet me after work to talk to me. I called a few people that I thought might want to know what he has to say about how the thing works. I called an MTAS lawyer. She said I was not guilty as long as it was fact-finding. There is no deliberation.”
Mawk said she was accused wrongly, and she was very distraught about it.