Chattanooga: Georgia sewer company owes $ 25 million, calls for cutoff

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Tennessee city says northern Georgia sewer authority owes more than $ 25 million in unpaid bills and fines, and wants to cut sewage treatment for the county, but the authority says amount owed is less than $ 300,000.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the city of Chattanooga claims that the Walker County Water and Sewerage Authority did not pay the total amount of 22 bills from October 2017 to July 2019.

The Walker County utility delivers wastewater that it collects to Chattanooga for treatment, at a cost for the service.

A September 16 letter from a lawyer in the city of Chattanooga says the authority owes $ 1.9 million in unpaid bills, as well as more than $ 23 million for breach of contract between the two entities.

“Walker County’s refusal to pay the full amount owed on time is a material breach of the parties’ agreement,” wrote Phil Noblett, deputy city attorney, demanding payment within 60 days. “This amount continues to accumulate at the rate of $ 1,000 per violation per day,” he wrote, plus interest.

The 60 days ended on November 15 and the authority had not paid by then.

On November 19, lawyers for the Sewer Authority filed a legal response challenging a number of Chattanooga actions and charges over the years and claiming that the Sewer Authority actually owed $ 279,500.

On December 13, Chattanooga responded by filing a motion to dismiss the counterclaims.

Earlier this year, the Walker County Council of Commissioners voted to spend $ 5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for a water and sewer improvement plan to redirect wastewater from the north end of the county to the sewage treatment plant in Chickamauga, Georgia, rather than Chattanooga. When asked during the September filing whether this would allow the Walker County Water and Sewerage Authority to disconnect from the Chattanooga system and treat all of its own sewage, the authority’s representative said it would likely require another “redirect project” as well as a processing enhancement facility.

In court documents, attorneys for Chattanooga said the city had the right to end service under the 2016 agreement.

“Nothing prevents Walker County from increasing its wastewater tariffs to build a treatment facility with sufficient capacity to treat all of its own wastewater,” the city said. “Walker County can also find someone else to treat their wastewater with. But what he can’t do is stubbornly refuse to pay his bills, tell Chattanooga how to finance the investment projects needed to treat his wastewater, and then play the victim when Chattanooga sues to enforce his contractual rights.

Chattanooga attorneys argue that Walker County withheld payments when Chattanooga needed money to comply with federal agreements to clean up its wastewater treatment system.

Chattanooga’s attorneys have asked the court to require the sewer agency to start taking steps to disconnect, although they acknowledged it could take time.

Representatives for both sides declined to comment.


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