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‘Stormy’ rate hikes loom for Knox residents

Rural Knox County residents, with the exception of Farragut, have a potential $63 million problem on their hands due to a lack of planning from the county engineering department’s storm water division.

This was the message Knox County Stormwater Advisory Board member Jamie Rowe brought to members of the Council of West Knox County Homeowners meeting Tuesday, March 6.

Rowe said Knox County, several years ago, was mandated by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to develop a stringent stormwater ordinance by 2005 and force developers to come into compliance with such an ordinance. The deadline has come and gone for this ordinance, and the county has yet to adopt one.

“Chattanooga was at Phase two status, like Knox County,” she said. “They were out of compliance for ten days in a row and T-D-E-C fined them twenty-five thousand dollars a day. Those penalties were paid through taxpayer money.”

Similar penalties for Knox County could ensue, Rowe said, when TDEC “gets tired of waiting for the county” to get around to doing what it is supposed to do.

Rowe said she and other members of the county Stormwater Advisory Board are trying to get county stormwater officials, a division of the county engineering department, to set up a series of public meetings to let the public know what is going on with the stormwater ordinance.

“Knox County is doing the bare minimum to meet the lowest standards,” she said. “I think we all want better for us and our children.”

Rowe said Knox County has a permit from the state and TDEC for a municipal separate storm sewer system, known also as MS4. The MS4 permit expires in 2008 and would need renewal. If the county has not adopted an ordinance and taken steps to enforce the ordinance, MS4 renewal seems doubtful. Financial penalties for a lack of an ordinance could begin to be imposed.

“The county is supposed to have mapped all the outfalls of water,” Rowe said. “They haven’t even done that.”

John Schoonmaker, another member of the Board, said an independent firm had done a study of the county’s stormwater division, which has 35 employees and an annual budget of $5 million. To properly enforce a stormwater ordinance by 2008, Knox County would need 65 stormwater division employees and an annual budget of $10.5 million.

Schoonmaker said allowing for growth, the county would need an estimated $88 million to operate and maintain a stormwater ordinance enforcement section between the years 2008 and 2012. If you subtract the current budget of $25 million (five years at $5 million), Schoonmaker said rural county residents are going to have to produce $63 million to make up for that deficit.

“You could possibly see an extra twenty to thirty dollars a month tacked on to your water bill,” he said. “This is going to make the Wheel Tax look like nothing.”

Rowe said she has tried to get county officials to schedule public meetings on the matter, but to no avail.

Knox County Commissioners Craig Leuthold, Frank Leuthold, Mark Harmon and Richard Cate attended the meeting.

Craig Leuthold suggested possibly tacking on a fee to the building permit process to help alleviate costs.

“K-U-B does a little stormwater management,” Cate said.

“Actually they don’t,” Rowe said. “K-U-B is out of the picture.

Rowe said Farragut and City of Knoxville residents might not have to face these costs since they belong to separate entities with their own ordinances.

“Farragut has the Cadillac of stormwater ordinances,” Rowe said. “Why Knox County couldn’t adopt one just like it, I don’t know.”

Rowe said the stormwater division of the county engineering department has to place the matter on Knox County Commission agenda before it can be discussed.


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