A new sewage plant in North Hamilton County could mean higher sewage bills, according to a new study. That study was presented to the Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) on Monday.

The study was developed by residents and critics of the WWTA's proposal build a sewer plant on Mahan Gap Road. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger appointed the panel last month.

But WWTA Interim Director Michael Patrick says bills will increase whether a sewage plant is built or not.

“We're looking at the rate increases and trying to find the scheduling that involves the least amount of rate increases, but they will be going up in the coming years,” Patrick said.

Patrick could not specify how much of an increase customers will see, but he says it would be a low percentage. He explained the increase is due to the estimated $250 million they will have to spend to stop sewage overflow throughout the county. The fix is required in order to meet the terms of a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We have to stop the overflows and we will do that through numerous methods,” Patrick explained. “A new plant is potentially a way to do so, but we will rehab pipelines, we will upside pipelines and install equalization, which is storage tanks.”

But the search panel says the county will be better off without a sewage tank and could save $6.3 million a year by utilizing the Moccasin Bend sewage plant.

“Their primary recommendation was that no treatment plant be built,” Patrick said. “Their numbers do not match ours. I really do not know what they are basing their numbers on. I have asked them for additional backup information, which they said they would supply. I do not know when I'm going to receive that information.”

Controversy surrounding the building of a new plant sparked last year.

WWTA's proposal revealed it would be built near Mahan Gap Road in Ooltewah. But after residents protested, the county commission denied it.

Now, the search is on for another solution. Building wastewater storage tanks and sewer lines connecting to the Moccasin Bend plant is one of them.

“Frankly we will have to use Moccasin Bend in a lot of locations but the biggest issue with the north Ooltewah area is that it is a long distance from the upper regions of Hamilton County,” said Patrick.

Patrick says the utility is currently facing challenges with getting wastewater to the plant, which is causing overflows

“That is where we have the overflows and that is the primary reason for the city's consent decree and our own consent decree,” said Patrick.

Patrick says the area is up to 35 miles away from the plant and would need the same amount of piping.

“All pipes leak,” Patrick explained. “The more pipeline you have in the ground, the more potential you have for leaks and spills.”

Patrick says it would add to the county's sewage overflow problem.

“One wastewater plant will not meet the long term needs of the entire region. We would be the only large city in Tennessee with one wastewater plant. It is not really a matter of want. It is more of a matter of need.”

Patrick told Channel 3, a notice on the rate increase will go out to customers in a few months. Right now, the utility is reviewing the panel’s study ad recommendations.

It is not clear when a decision will be made on the proposed plant, but we are told there will be opportunities for more community input.

Stay with the WRCB app for updates to this story.