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Bell Buckle fails to get sewer upgrade grant

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The small community of Bell Buckle will have to find a way to come up with a half a million dollars or more to pay for a state mandated sewer system upgrade after the town was denied a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

Mayor Linda Key was informed earlier this month by Philip Trauernicht, director of Tennessee's Department of Economic and Community Development, that Bell Buckle's project "did not rank high enough to be funded."

Key stated that the Bell Buckle town council will have to address the matter at their November meeting. She added that she has also spoken to representatives of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued a Director's Order on March 29 concerning problems with the town's sewer system.

According to the state order, there were 61 instances of bypass overflow with the waste water system which allowed an estimated 1.6 million gallons of partially treated wastewater to enter Bell Buckle Creek.

In this year's CDBG grant application, the town proposed putting in an equalization basin at the sewer plant which would store all of the inflow and infiltration during wet weather, rather than bypassing it, and then run it through the treatment plant when the flows go back down.

According to environmental manager Jim Patterson of St. John Engineering, who does engineering work for Bell Buckle, the state order would have granted "additional points in their favor. They would have had a darn good chance of getting the grant."

Patterson said that it has been getting "tougher and tougher" for towns to get these grants and that he would have to see the state's list, which should be released next week, to find out how high Bell Buckle ranked.

With the denial of the grant, the small town will have to come up with $500,000 to $600,000 to fund the mandated improvements.

"They will have to make some tough decisions," Patterson said, referring to Bell Buckle's council. There are other grant options, but are not as good as a CDBG, with a much smaller percentage of funding being provided, leaving the town to come up with the matching funds, he said.

A long term loan would be another option.

Bell Buckle has already developed a Correction Action Plan (CAP) and a Management Operations and Maintenance program, (MOM) which would contain the goals of the project ordered by TDEC.

No monetary fine was mentioned in the TDEC order, but it does state that "compliance with the Order will be one factor considered in any decision whether to take enforcement action against the Respondent in the future. Failure to comply with this order will result in additional penalties."

Also as a result of the state order, Bell Buckle will not be able to make any further connections, line extensions or allow increased flows to the waste water collection system except for those connections which are already legally committed.

Bell Buckle had already received a $400,000 CDBG grant in 2003 for slip lining, a method used in the sewer collection system to try to reduce the amount of inflow and infiltration that comes into the sewer plant.

In April, Aldermen Gail Winnett said it didn't matter if they got the CDBG grant or not, they still have to come up with the money to fix the problem. Patterson said at the time that the grant would satisfy only the part calling for the equalization basin.

"It doesn't even touch the surface with the MOM program," he said. "That's going to change that way you do business with the town of Bell Buckle compared to how you did business as a water and sewer system in the past."

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