VIDEO: Fort Payne City Council discusses “developing crisis” at Terrapin Hills
September 1, 2017 Share

VIDEO: Fort Payne City Council discusses “developing crisis” at Terrapin Hills

PHOTO: City Attorney Rocky Watson reads aloud the city’s statement on the Terrapin Hills sewer system. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)

By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor

FORT PAYNE, Ala. (Watch the Video on our Website) On Wednesday, August 30, the Fort Payne City Council held a workshop regarding the sewer system at Terrapin Hills.

According to to City Attorney Rocky Watson, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has filed an injunction, threatening to “cap off” the system due to a permit not being issued by ADEM.

After the representative from ADEM failed to show up at the meeting, the city discussed ideas to fix the problem and avoid the crisis. The subdivision has 190 houses, and if the outflow of the system is capped off, all these houses will loose sewer service.

One short term solution discussed at the meeting was that houses could have their existing tanks pumped; diverting waste to their existing tanks. The overflow from those tanks that were originally installed is what flows to the system that ADEM has the issue, as the tanks were installed without field lines.

Long term, the city plans on extending sewer service to this portion of town, utilizing new revenue from the city’s recent sales tax increase. The council also discussed finding grants for the project, which ties in closely with cleaning out Wills Creek for recreational use.

We reached out to ADEM following the meeting, and Public Affairs Director Lynn Battle related that their response would be issued in the coming days.

The city issued the following statement regarding the system: “Today’s work session has been called to address what appears to be a developing crisis surrounding the Terrapin Hills Sewer System in northern Fort Payne.

Before we begin, it should be made clear, that the City of Fort Payne had absolutely no connection with the development, installation, operation, permitting or overseeing of the Terrapin Hills Sewer System. There is no connection with the City of Fort Payne, other than that the City at one time had issued a franchise to the owners to enable them to charge for their services. That franchise was conditioned on, among other things, the owners’ compliance with ADEM regulations and having a valid ADEM permit. When ADEM revoked the permit, the City correspondingly revoked the franchise.

The City has now learned that there is a request from ADEM for an injunction prohibiting the operation of the Terrapin Hills Sewer System. Based on the information we have been able to obtain, the sewer system is working properly at this point in time. ADEM’s request for an injunction, and corresponding threat to cap the outflow pipe of the system, is based solely on the inability of the owner to pay and receive a permit from ADEM.

ADEM is taking this action in spite of the fact that they have never previously requested an injunction on occasions when the system was not functioning properly, and was discharging waste into Wills Creek. It would appear ironic that pollution was allowed to continue, but failure to pay ADEM brings about a request for an injunction.

Should ADEM obtain an injunction and carry through with its threat to cap the outflow pipe from Terrapin Hills, that would render in excess of 190 homes in at least three subdivisions in north Fort Payne uninhabitable, unmarketable, and worthless.

ADEM has over the last several years sought to pressure the City into assuming this problem that was created on ADEM’s watch. The City was requested reissue a franchise in spite of the fact that ADEM would not issue a permit. On advice of the counsel, the City did not take that action which would have resulted in exposure to liability for the City.

However, the City has not ignored the situation. There have been ongoing discussions about how to address the situation going back at least as far as the 1990s. Within the last 30 days, the first step toward being able to meet this looming crisis was taken by the Council when they passed the 1 percent sales tax which would enable the City to issue bonds that would be necessary for the City to begin in a sewer project which would solve not only the Terrapin Hills situation, but would vastly improve and open up all of the Northern Fort Payne area.

The City is committed to, if cooperation can be obtained from ADEM, trying to resolve this problem. However, it will take time, and the public should recognize that this was not a problem created by or contributed to by the City.”

We’ll update more on this situation as ADEM provides an update on the situation and the city deals with this, “developing crisis.”

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