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IN OUR OPINION: Blame game won't work
Mar 07, 2005 12:00 am
The Lebanon City Council and Mayor Don Fox should be ashamed of themselves.
Instead of owning up to their near decade of neglect of our city's sewer system and wastewater infrastructure, Fox and the Council are shamelessly trying to divert attention away from their own failings and blame anyone available – the media, state government and even the weather.
The real facts concerning the sad state of Lebanon's sewer system are very simple to understand. Lebanon has gone through nearly two decades of unprecedented commercial and residential growth. Unfortunately, our city leaders' recruitment of business and approval of development has outpaced their maintenance of our most vital piece of infrastructure, the city sewer system.
The numbers are very clear, almost painfully so.
According to a report released Monday by the city's own Public Works Department, since 1988 city government has spent almost $11 million on maintenance and expansion projects for the sewer system.
However, $10.2 million of the total happened all between 1988 and 1997 – the year Fox was re-elected with more than 65 percent of the vote. From 1998 until the present, less than $800,000 has been spent on the upkeep of the system in terms of capital projects. That translates to only $105,000 spent a year on projects to maintain a sewer system the mayor and councilors by their own admission say has had problems for years.
By comparison, the last city budget approved by City Council earmarked more than $88,000 for "special events" put on by city government – everything from fireworks to Easter egg hunts.
Other facts about city government's abject neglect of the sewer system is also not in dispute.
The city has been cited twice in the last four years for the sewer system failing. In 2001, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation put up warnings all over town for residents to stay out of Sinking Creek due to elevated bacteria levels in the water because of sewage spilling directly into the stream.
In 2003, the state inspected the city sewage treatment plant on Hartmann Drive and found the facility repleat with violations, many of which related to improper testing of wastewater before it was discharged into the Cumberland River.
That 2003 inspection ultimately resulted in a state fine of city government last year and a legally binding order from the TDEC commissioner forcing city officials to fix chronic overflow problems with the sewer system. According to the state, there have been literally hundreds of overflows of the city's sewer system in recent years.
Our newspaper documented one such overflow last month where after a heavy rain raw sewage gushed through the yards of city taxpayers on Neal Street and into nearby Bartons Creek.
An earlier investigation by this newspaper revealed a failure of the city sewer system has contributed to the polluting of Bartons Creek. The popular stream is given the worst rating possible for pollution on a federal watch list maintained by the state.
Oddly, the only two sewer rehab projects that have taken place since 1997 coincided with state actions against the city sewer in 2001 and 2003. That is known as crisis management, not good municipal planning.
Finally, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents and TDEC workers raided the Hartmann Drive city sewer plant last month, seizing documents. A search warrant and affidavit filed in the case alleges city plant manager James "Butch" Arnold falsified documents reporting the results of wastewater treatment at the plant.
Given the overwhelming evidence found in state environmental records, the city's own funding figures and the ongoing criminal investigation, city government needs to deal in facts and not spin.
City councilors and Fox took to task the "media" in Wilson County for not attending a meeting of the City Council's Public Works Committee meeting Monday where city staff laid out their plans to address the sewer system's problems and catalog work already performed. The total price tag just to satisfy the state' s order against the city is $16 million.
No public notice of the meeting was delivered to area media for inclusion into community calendars as is the usual practice of Lebanon city government. Instead, the meeting was simply referenced in a lengthy packet of correspondence to city councilors on problems with the sewer delivered to some area media outlets.
In an equally ridiculous tirade on the radio Wednesday, Fox attempted to blame this newspaper instead of his own administration's poor planning for any potential hike in city sewer rates related to the inevitable infrastructure catching up that is needed.
Speaking for ourselves and our peers, the "media" in this county are pretty tough. We can take the jabs.
However, such spin might not play well on Neal Street, Market Street and a dozen other places in Lebanon where taxpayers have to endure the filth of a failing city sewer system flowing through their yards.
Taking pot shots at us is easy. Looking these citizens in the eye and trying the same lame spin will not be.