VOL. 133 | NO. 49 | Thursday, March 8, 2018
City Now Considering New Sewer Connections on Case-by-Case Basis
By Bill Dries
It’s the kind of wording about a basic local government service that gets that attention of those who make sure the water runs when taxpayers turn on the faucet and the toilet flushes when taxpayers want it to.
“We have been approached by a number of developers in this sewer basin with projects and have notified everyone at this time that we cannot allow any new connections until further notice,” Memphis Public Works Director Robert Knecht wrote last week in an email to Memphis City Council members Kemp Conrad and Frank Colvett.
The email a week ago confirmed that the city had what Knecht termed a “sanitary sewer issue” with the sewer basin in the Fletcher Creek area. And the scope of the area affected, as listed in the email, is part of Cordova, 70 percent of the city of Bartlett and 20 percent of the city of Lakeland.
But a week after Knecht’s email summary of the situation, city chief operating officer Doug McGowen said Tuesday, March 6, there is a concern but not the kind that would warrant a cutoff.
“It was erroneously conveyed to some individuals through someone in City Hall who said the city of Memphis will not entertain any new connections,” McGowen said. “That is, in fact, not the case. We are going to do it on a case-by-case basis as new developments come on.”
McGowen said the city first identified some concerns about the Fletcher Creek basin in 2014 and has been assessing its capacity since then.
“Several developments were closed,” he said. “We went to the developers and said, ‘We are working on assessing the long-term impact of development on this distribution system. We think there are some downstream constraints that we have to work on.’”
This past August those limits were confirmed.
“We are conducting a flow monitoring study of the sewer system basin to determine if there is any excess flow available,” Knecht said in the email. The results of that study are expected in August.
He also outlines a long-term solution to expand capacity with a parallel sewer pathway to the Wolf River main interceptor that the city operates. That is expected to take two to three years and cost $8 million to $10 million.
The city is also having discussions with the Tennessee Department of Transportation about using an Interstate 40 right of way in some manner.
Meanwhile, the city continues to undertake a total of $750 million in sewer fund and capital fund improvements, financed in part with recent hikes in sewer-related fees on residential and commercial water bills. Of that amount, there is a $500 million modernization of the north and south wastewater treatment plants over five years. It includes a new disinfection process using PAA – peracetic acid – that is to convert wastewater into a water that is of higher quality than the Mississippi River water the treated water flows into after the treatment.
The city is also in the middle of a $250 million sewer modernization project as part of a federal consent decree to guard against sanitary sewer overflows.
“We’ll also know in the next few months what new capacity we need to add,” McGowen said.
He described the new case-by-case policy for new development as part of the city’s decision last August to end any new sewer connections for development in unincorporated Shelby County.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has said the earlier decision is an effort to bring more new urban development into Memphis.
Developers of the Lake District multi-use project under construction in Lakeland confirmed to The Daily News Tuesday that the project is not affected by the sewer basin capacity concerns and that they have talked with Memphis leaders.