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Oliver Springs, a town once renowned for healthful waters, has been slammed with fines for releasing poorly treated sewage into its main creek.
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has levied more than $175,000 in damages and penalties for violations of the Water Quality Control Act.
“These violations include, but are not limited to, the screening device was inoperable and should be replaced, equalization basin had compacted solids, therefore reducing its flow, signs of debris were noticeable throughout the plant and other numerous violations of the permit,” TDEC said.
The plant releases sewage effluent into Poplar Creek. Poorly treated effluent can carry disease, bacteria and other hazards to humans and wildlife.
An order outlining the findings assessed damages of $1,995.78 and a civil penalty of $175,200. It was signed by TDEC Commissioner Robert J. Martineau Jr. on June 30.
When contacted Monday evening, Oliver Springs Mayor Chris Hepler said he wasn’t aware the order had been issued.
“I knew some orders were coming and they were going to direct us to do some stuff at our treatment plant,” Hepler said. “But I have to find out, no offense, from you, that evidently an order has been issued and yet I have no copy of it. I just think for our state department, that’s a little unprofessional.”
According to U.S. Postal Service tracking, the letter arrived at the Oliver Springs Post Office at 8:08 a.m. on July 3, “and is ready for pickup.”
The order said TDEC found multiple deficiencies during a plant inspection on April 11, 2013.
“Solids were not settling in the clarifier, and the chlorine contact chamber had bubbling, an indication of settled solids on the bottom,” were some of the deficiencies noted.
TDEC said it found additional violations during a follow-up inspection on Feb. 28 this year.
The agency noted 47 E. coli bacteria violations, 46 ammonia violations, 29 suspended solids removal violations, one residual chlorine violation, three dissolved oxygen violations and one suspended solids removal daily maximum percent removal violation.
Hepler said he’s well aware the city has issues with its wastewater plant.
“But until they (TDEC) told us exactly what we needed to do, I wasn’t prepared to budget for something that we didn’t know,” he said. “What if we budgeted too little? What if we budgeted more than we needed to?”
Hepler said the city will do what’s necessary to get the plant in good standing.
“We’re going to comply with everything TDEC says we have to comply with,” he said. “We’re going to fix the sewer plant like it needs to be fixed, and hopefully, we’ll be able to do upgrades that will last 15 to 20 years in the future.”
Hepler said he planned to contact TDEC’s Knoxville office this week to discuss the order.
The city has the option to appeal.
“We’ve already got an engineering firm that’s doing a plant design upgrade for us,” Hepler said. “It’s not like we’ve been sitting on our hands.”
Oliver Springs once was a nationally known resort town based on the purported healing properties of its mineral springs. That reputation came to an end when the 150-room Oliver Springs Hotel burned in 1905.