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Town cites business owner

Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen had a lengthy, and sometimes testy, discussion of a stormwater violation at Calibur Car Wash at its meeting, Thursday, Aug. 27.

The Board was to decide whether to levy civil penalties against Mike Thomas, owner of Calibur, 11135 Kingston Pike, and in what amount.

Town engineering staff said Thomas was guilty of violating the Town’s stormwater ordinance, largely because he cleared land down to bare soil inside an aquatic buffer.

“You were doing work not only in an aquatic buffer, but without any erosion control measures,” Town Engineer Darryl Smith said.

The aquatic buffer basically is an area of land around waterways meant to remain undisturbed, so as to filter out sediment and pollutants.

Thomas told the Board he did no damage inside the aquatic buffer; he was clearing out an overgrown detention pond.

“I’ve cleared up a dump right in the center of Farragut … I spent a substantial amount of money on a sore spot,” Thomas said.

“People come in … and make a city dump out of it, and I get crucified for cleaning it up.

“I’m insulted, basically,” he added.

Thomas had been levied $1,120 in civil penalties, for completing work in violation of Town ordinances and then for ignoring stop work orders.

“I do agree with Mr. Thomas a detention basin must be maintained,” Town engineering technician Jason Scott said, congratulating Thomas on a job well done cleaning it out.

However, Smith said, “The violation was the fact work was being done clearing and grubbing without erosion control methods.”

Stormwater Advisory Committee chair John Tyner agreed with Smith.

“You don’t want to ever see [bare soil]. As a hydrologist, that gets me fired up,” he said.

Tyner said the top pollutant in Tennessee waterways was simply dirt. He added Thomas’s decision to ignore stop work orders was “egregious.”

Thomas said the bare land wasn’t any fault of his; it had been bare for years following First Utility District work in the area, which was apparent in GIS pictures from past years.

Because of the disputable cause of the bare soil in the aquatic buffer, the SAC advised the Board to lower the civil penalties to $950, which it eventually did.

Town Attorney Tom Hale said, no matter who was responsible for the original bare dirt, Thomas or FUD, it became Thomas’ responsibility to fix it when he bought the property.

Scott said all the site would have required to fix it was grass seed, straw and a silt fence, all of which were eventually installed since the violations began in February.

“I could have physically gone out there … and I could have solved it myself,” Scott said.

“I kind of agree with Mr. Thomas,” Alderman Bob Markli said, adding he had inspected the detention basin and could not see how sediment could escape it.

He and Tyner argued for several minutes about the differences between detention basins and sediment basins until Alderman John Williams stepped in.

“I’m not here to dispute whether you did harm,” Williams said to Thomas, again congratulating him for cleaning a detention basin.

But, “you have to [clean] in accord with environmental practices,” Williams said.

“It occurs to me a reasonable person working in an environmentally sensitive area, when presented with a challenge whether their current work efforts are being done in compliance to stormwater ordinances … would stop and ask for advisement and coordination.

“It is indisputable you opted not to do that. … It is crystal clear you proceeded with work when you were asked to stop.

“Every developer and their mother knows when you do grading work, you have the capacity to do harm to ecosystems, water quality and all sorts of things,” he added.

“I disagree,” Thomas said. “You know, you weren’t there either.”

Williams moved to levy $950 in civil penalties against Thomas, which Alderman Jeff Elliott seconded. The Board passed the motion 4-1, with Markli voting against levying fines.

Smith said stormwater guidelines were not whimsical Farragut rules, but guidelines passed down from the EPA and from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

“And they want to make sure we actually use it … we have been assessing penalties wherever we have found violations to our stormwater ordinance,” Smith said, adding this case began with a “simple” $250 fine.

If the Town were found not to be enforcing TDEC guidelines, it would be levied heavy fines, Smith said.

Thomas told the Board the situation would have been resolved quicker if he had just paid the fines.

“Why didn’t you go ahead and pay it then?” Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche asked.

“It’s not a matter of the fine; it’s a matter of principle,” Thomas said.

Thomas told the Board he might pursue legal action.


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