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Senate approves regulation of 'STEP' sewers
Mar 21, 2005 12:00 am
At the urging of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA), state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation further regulating the decentralized sewer industry in Tennessee on Monday.
In a 28-0 vote, senators approved a bill authorizing the authority to require a public utility providing wastewater service "or for a particular project proposed by a public utility providing wastewater service" to post a bond.
Decentralized sewers, often referred to as on-site or STEP sewer systems, have fueled residential development in some of the state's most rural areas in recent years.
Built and maintained by private contractors, the systems – essentially small-scale municipal sewers – typically become the property of the local public utility after construction.
"We've had a significant increase in the number of applications for certification of public utilities for various wastewater projects across the state, and as a result of that, I was looking at how we were approaching those," TRA Chairman Pat Miller said. "When I first got on the commission, there was just a smattering of project requests, but in the last couple of years, they've increased dramatically."
In December 2004, The Lebanon Democrat published a series entitled "Little Pink Houses" chronicling the spread of decentralized technology and discovered nearly 5,600 lots linked to on-site systems in Wilson, Rutherford and Williamson counties had been approved for residential development.
Waller Henry, a research analyst for the Senate Environment Committee, noted a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation report issued last year further demonstrated the increased use of decentralized technology.
"Basically, if these systems fail, at least there will be something there for maintenance and operation of these wastewater services," Henry said of the legislation. " … These things have to be maintained, and if a company goes bankrupt or whatever, what's going to happen. A lot of people claim … it will fall back on the taxpayers to bail them out."
According to Senate Bill 1098, which was sponsored by Sen. Don McLeary, D-Jackson, and later amended by Sen. David Fowler, R-Signal Mountain, "the authority shall establish by rule the amount" of the bond based on a development's size.
In formulating the legislation, Miller explained TRA officials looked at similar regulations already in place elsewhere in the United States, specifically in Florida, where he said there had been at least three documented system failures.
"With the growing number of these things, you have to worry about the impact on consumers," Miller said. "So, I wanted to look at what measures needed to be in place like we have to regulate other utilities to establish a standard and make sure the consumer is protected."
The House version of the bill has yet to receive approval but will be considered by members of a commerce subcommittee March 16.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.