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New fee for Norris?

Residents could pay $2.71 more on water bills

The Norris sewage treatment plant off East Norris Road is often overwhelmed by storm- water runoff that infiltrates the city’s sewer lines, causing contaminated water to bypass the treatment facility and be discharged directly into nearby Buffalo Creek. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
If a proposed ordinance is approved, Norris would soon begin charging residents a “stormwater” collection fee – tentatively set for $2.71 a month for a typical residence – that would be added to their water/sewer/trash-collection bills.

In its efforts to stop excess runoff of stormwater into the city’s sanitary sewer system – which has caused the city to run afoul of state environmental regulations – Norris would set up a stormwater department under the city manager, led by a director hired to oversee the operation.

City Council members met last Thursday night (Feb. 2) for a workshop session to discuss the stormwater issue and the possibility of establishing user fees.

Plans are to bring the issue up again during the regular City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 12.

The goal is to create a better system of managing stormwater runoff than what the city now has, which includes some stormwater collection lines mostly along city streets.

But the problem is that during periods of heavy rain, stormwater infiltrates the city’s sanitary sewer system, causing an unmanageable flow to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

There, the excess stormwater mixes with raw sewage, and because it can quickly overwhelm the treatment facility, this combination of sewage and stormwater ends up bypassing the treatment plant along East Norris Road, and gets dumped into nearby Buffalo Creek.

Since early 2022, Norris has been under a “director’s order” from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to clean up its discharge of sewage into the creek, since the department found the city in violation of water-quality regulations concerning those discharges bypassing the sewage-treatment plant.

The city hired Cannon & Cannon Consulting Engineers of Knoxville to create the plan to remedy the violations. That plan, submitted to the council in May 2022, called for making the required repairs beginning as soon as possible, with an estimated completion date of late 2028.

Under the engineers’ plan, the price for the bulk of the work was estimated to be $5.488 million, with a potential bill as high as $6.6 million.

That does not include the possibility the city might need to install a 750,000-gallon holding tank for stormwater runoff, at an additional cost of more than $2.1 million.

Since then, the city has begun considering setting up the separate stormwater department, which would operate independently of the city’s water/sewer department.

The stormwater management program would get its operating budget from city residents, businesses and industries.

Such a program could be efficient enough to allow the city to limit the size of the storage tank that’s being considered for the sewage plant site. It’s intended to hold the contaminated stormwater runoff temporarily instead of allowing it to flow untreated into Buffalo Creek.

The engineers have been testing the sanitary sewer system to find leaks and other problems that allow stormwater to enter the system.

Norris was ordered by the Division of Water Resources to fix the stormwater runoff issue, or end up paying $23,460 in fines – or more – for violations of state regulations regarding discharge of the polluted water into Buffalo Creek, at a point just behind the Chunky Monkey ice cream shop on Andersonville Highway.

The city already has paid $4,692 of that fine to the state, and would be on the hook for the rest unless its remediation plan is carried out as scheduled.

The city contracted with Cannon & Cannon for $300,000 to study the sanitary sewer system to find out where the stormwater is entering the system during heavy rains, which can add an extra million gallons of water per day to the sewer system.