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Fox: Portions of state water report 'frivolous'
Dec 18, 2005 12:00 am
December 17, 2005
Despite referring to portions of a critical state assessment of the city's water department as "frivolous," Lebanon Mayor Don Fox conceded Friday that city councilors should have been apprised of the month-old report.
During a Lebanon City Council work session, Lebanon Public Works Commissioner Jeff Baines said the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regulations on water departments are "getting tighter and more strict," a factor in TDEC's "unsatisfactory" rating of the city's water department.
"Pressure's being put on TDEC from somewhere … There were so many things in here, to me, that were frivolous," Fox remarked.
"They're hitting it statewide," Baines said, suggesting the Environmental Protection Agency was behind the new push on water regulations.
As an example, Baines said the City of Franklin had received a score of 23 during its most recent sanitary survey.
According to TDEC Deputy Communications Director Tisha Calabrese, Franklin scored a 28 during the assessment and was given an "unsatisfactory" rating similar to Lebanon's.
As for the tightening of TDEC regulations on water departments, Calabrese noted regulations had been changed in response to alterations made at the federal level. State regulations, she explained, must be "at least" as stringent as federal regulations.
"A side-by-side comparison of the former manual and the revised manual shows very little difference in the sanitary survey score a water system would receive. For the most part, the new manual does not change the score a system would receive," she said, adding changes to the manual were first put out for public notice.
"It is important to note," she continued, "that no changes were made without significant advance notice, and we try to give as much latitude as possible while systems get familiar with the new regulations."
Finally, Calabrese concluded, "there is very little subjectiveness regarding sanitary survey scoring. No one employee does the sanitary survey alone. It is done by a team from (TDEC)." She noted the TDEC inspectors must consult a manual before deducting points and explained the manual is "consulted for consistency in arriving at a specific deduction."
The Lebanon water department was ultimately issued a 64 out of a possible 100 following TDEC's two-day-long inspection.
Among TDEC's listing of violations was the city's failure to submit plans and specifications prior to conducting maintenance work on a pair of clearwells at the city's treatment plant and the Seay Hill storage tank. That violation, Baines said, was the direct result of a miscommunication with TDEC officials.
In a written response to the TDEC assessment addressed to city councilors, Baines wrote: "The consultant that prepared the plans and specifications had spoken with an individual from TDEC and understood that TDEC did not need to review and approve. The TDEC officials that made the inspection indicated that TDEC review and approval is required prior to commencement of any work."
Baines told councilors Friday such an incident would not occur again in the future.
"From now on, we'll send everything down to TDEC," he said.
A second violation for which the department's score was reduced involved the failure of pumping equipment on Dec. 3, 2004. Baines explained workers at the city's water treatment plant were unaware the event had to be reported to TDEC "since a backup pump was available, and the quality of water continued to meet requirements."
As a result of the survey, TDEC officials have requested that all "Approved Water System" signs be removed from state highways entering the Lebanon Water Department's service area.
City lawmakers requested Fox and the Lebanon Public Works Committee pen a letter to TDEC, requesting another inspection soon in order to regain the standing of the city's water system.
"I would highly suggest that we really be on our game when they come back," Ward 6 City Councilor Kathy Warmath commented.
Fox agreed to begin formulating the letter in tandem with the public works committee and conceded city lawmakers should have been made aware of the report sooner.
Prior to Friday's meeting, a number of city councilors had expressed concern over what some described as a communication lapse. Many councilors noted they were unaware of the "unsatisfactory" report until it was first reported in the Tuesday, Dec. 13 edition of The Lebanon Democrat.
"When it came out in the paper, I didn't know how to answer to people," Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler said, adding he had fielded a handful of calls from concerned constituents regarding the assessment. "… I just felt like we should've been told."
"They (constituents) expect us to at least be in the loop," Warmath added.
Fox and Baines agreed and, as both have repeatedly noted in the past, they added the assessment found the city's water supply was safe by both federal and state standards.
The state's plans to remove "Approved Water System" signage, Fox said, should have served as a "flag" for informing city councilors.
"There was a failure to