NASHVILLE – Tennessee officials table $ 1.35 billion of the American Rescue Plan Act’s $ 3.9 billion in federal funds in the form of local infrastructure grants in hopes of persuading cities and counties to invest millions of their own ARP dollars for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater improvements.
“These funds will help us meet critical water infrastructure needs in communities across our state,” Governor Bill Lee said in a statement earlier this month regarding the water infrastructure investment plan. State. “We engage the leadership of the counties of Tennessee and want to apply these funds in the most efficient and useful process possible.”
The proposal was approved in early December by Lee’s Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group as part of its “Tennessee Resilience Plan”. It invests $ 1 billion in the water infrastructure investment plan and offers the money in the form of grants to 95 counties in the state and potentially 267 towns and villages. Another $ 269 million would go to state-initiated projects, with the remainder going to a competitive subsidy program for water-related infrastructure.
The plan, developed by Lee administration officials, key lawmakers, and the state’s Department of Environment and Conservation, requires local governments to offer 20-40 percent matches if they choose to use the program and get funding according to a formula created for it. It includes the allocation of base amounts depending on whether the entity is a county or a municipality and other factors, including population. The formula also includes an ability to pay index to help poorer counties and municipalities. State incentives could further reduce the local share of costs.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation cites between $ 5 billion and $ 15 billion in water infrastructure needs statewide by 2040, based on data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. environment, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, and the state government’s TN H2O 2018 report.
Chattanooga Problems, Hamilton County
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, a Republican from Hixson and a member of the State Fiscal Responsibility Stimulus Group, said in a telephone interview on Monday that he had been hearing for years a ” regular beat “on water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure issues both locally and elsewhere. in Tennessee.
“For most of us that really fits the definition of infrastructure,” Watson said of the new grant program. He said Lee and state lawmakers are hopeful that funding for the ARP Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds will prompt local governments and related entities to start tackling the issues.
The city of Chattanooga is subject to a 2013 consent decree with the EPA, which costs the city about $ 250 million to resolve its issues.
The Hamilton County government is itself considering an expected consent order from the EPA, with an expected price tag of $ 245 million.
Since 2008, the town of Signal Mountain has been subject to a sewer moratorium, with the exception of a few pre-approved properties and others related to the mountain’s decentralized wastewater treatment facility. Part of Red Bank and between 80% and 90% of Soddy-Daisy has been under moratorium for almost as long, Michael Patrick, director of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Authority, which serves most of Hamilton County outside of the city of Chattanooga, said in a telephone interview.
Lookout Mountain and part of East Ridge are under moratorium, as are several unincorporated areas in East Brainerd and Ooltewah.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger needs little conviction to participate in the state effort. The county faces spending more than $ 245 million to overhaul its sewage system in a pending EPA court settlement.
It comes after years of violations and millions of gallons of raw sewage has poured into local streams and streams. Wastewater treatment and management is becoming “increasingly critical” as the county continues to grow, Coppinger said in a telephone interview last week.
“Obviously this is going to be extremely expensive, so anything we can do with the ARP money, whether it comes from the state or even the money we got locally from. [ARP], which can be devoted to wastewater, will obviously help in the future to keep the charges at the level of the [Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority] users, ”Coppinger said. “We welcome any funding or assistance we may have. “
The county water authority, which provides sewer services to a number of residents in eight municipalities, is eligible to receive $ 9.08 million in state funding, according to the Department of Health document. and Tennessee Environment describing the plan. The county would be required to pay an additional $ 3.6 million as part of the state’s 40% co-funding requirement.
Hamilton County is already receiving $ 71.4 million, half of which this year and the other half in 2022, directly through the American Recovery Act’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.
The Chattanooga EPA’s consent decree came after decades of raw sewage discharges into the Tennessee River. The city is eligible for $ 16.66 million in the state’s new program funds, according to the water infrastructure investment plan document. The city is expected to invest $ 5 million to meet a 30% state co-funding requirement.
Chattanooga, also, receives approximately $ 38.6 million in direct federal ARP funding, half of that already provided in 2021 and the remaining part to come in 2022 via the $ 38.6 million from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. of ARP.
City officials hope the state takes into account the tens of millions of dollars it has already spent on solving its water pollution problems.
“We are spending a huge amount of money on water and sewage infrastructure as a community through our consent decree,” Joda Thongnopnua, chief of staff to Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, said at the meeting. ‘a telephone interview last week.
Thongnopnua said the city has already spent nearly half of the money needed to fix sewer issues and the Moccasin Bend sewage treatment plant on the Tennessee River near downtown.
“I think [the city will be] ask the state of Tennessee to help us assess how municipalities under a consent decree and are already spending a lot of money, millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars, in fact, on our networks of ‘aqueduct and sewer, how this could be factored into the game, “Thongnopnua said.
The state is also seeking to encourage water and sewer related activities through some reductions in co-financing.
Besides Chattanooga, the town of Collegedale is the only other municipality in Hamilton County to have a wastewater and sewer system. Efforts to reach City Manager Wayon Hines by phone on Monday were unsuccessful.
According to figures from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Collegedale is eligible for a total state allowance of $ 1.4 million. The city is expected to match that with 30% or $ 140,000 of its own money or its share of Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars.
The water authority asks for help
Water and Wastewater Authority executive director Michael Patrick said in a telephone interview with Times Free Press last week that he hoped local governments would keep the authority in mind .
“Apparently the funding can also apply to stormwater type projects,” said Patrick. “I think some of them [local governments] would like to keep some of their money for it. But I ask them all as much of a lot [as] I can get.”
Much of Soddy-Daisy has been under a sewer moratorium for years. The city could receive $ 1.7 million from the state program.
City manager Burt Johnson said in a telephone interview last week that the city’s share “would be more likely” to go to the water authority.
“Most of the city that’s in development right now is under a moratorium,” Johnson said. “Which means they can’t have any more sewer faucets until they fix the sewer here where it can handle the flow.”
“We would be prepared, of course, to try to do whatever we can, because we will benefit in the long term if we get out of the moratorium,” he said.
The city would be required to match the state’s offer with 30% or $ 517,000. But again, the state’s plan includes some reductions in matching funds.
Environment and Conservation Department spokeswoman Kim Shofinski said in an email Monday that eligible cities are those that are incorporated and operate a drinking water system, a system of sewer / sewer or storm water system authorized. Based on the published plan, Soddy-Daisy is eligible for a non-competitive grant allocation up to the dollar amount identified in the allocation table as it is part of a municipal separate storm sewer system program, a she declared.
Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @ AndySher1.