SUD Good News


by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the April 16 meeting, the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners received good news about PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and about resolution of a years-old agreement with the University promising to reimburse the utility for expenses incurred as a consequence of narrowing Highway 41A. In new business, the board took up a request for a water-bill adjustment and discussed the possible need for upsizing sewer lines serving the eastern section of the district.

“We were part of an EPA test for PFAS,” said SUD manager Ben Beavers. PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals used in carpeting, apparel, upholstery, food paper wrappings, cable coatings and more. PFAS health risks include cancer, suppressed immunity, increased cholesterol levels, developmental disorders, and decreased fertility. “It’s not in our water,” Beavers reassured the board. “We don’t have any of it.”

Narrowing Highway 41A evolved in conjunction with the University pursuing its Sewanee Village Plan for the downtown area. The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) took on the project, and because narrowing the highway was a TDOT project, SUD was financially liable for the water and sewer infrastructure changes required. In the summer of 2020, the University verbally agreed to help offset SUD’s expense, but SUD never received reimbursement for the substantial costs incurred. “[Vice Chancellor] Rob Pearigen sat down next to me at the recent fire department reunion,” said SUD Board President Charlie Smith, “and Rob told me, ‘We’re prepared to write a check for the road project.’” Pearigen also mentioned the University’s intention to follow through on the agreement to Beavers. Pearigen said his assistant Nicky Hamilton would contact Beavers to finalize the arrangements.

After careful consideration, the board rejected a request for an adjustment from a customer with a $450 December water bill for over 18,000 gallons of usage. The customer, a part-time resident, said SUD notified her of the high usage, and a neighbor subsequently shut off the water under the house. A plumber found no leaks, making the customer ineligible for leak-insurance reimbursement. Beavers suspected a running toilet caused the excessive usage. Smith pointed out a faulty toilet flapper could also be the cause. Customers with leak insurance who had leaks from frozen pipes during the subzero January temperatures were reimbursed by the insurance company, Beavers said, but toilet problems do not count as leaks. Beavers offered to have the meter tested and refund the bill if the meter was faulty, with the stipulation, if the meter was not faulty, the customer would pay for the $50 meter test. The customer declined the offer. “Please tell her we’re sympathetic,” Smith said.

Beavers introduced a discussion about the possible need for “upsizing” the sewer line from the manhole in front of the proposed University apartments to Baker’s Lane. “The [line] takes all the sewage east of the University and St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School,” Beavers said. “It runs at full capacity during heavy rain.” Beavers partly attributed the situation to inflow and infiltration of ground water into the sewer line, but stressed “this is more of a capacity problem.” The 10-inch line increases to 16 inches at Baker’s Lane and continues as a 16-inch line to the Wastewater Treatment Plant. In addition to the University apartments, sewage from the proposed SAS development and Arcadia senior living facility would flow into the line. “Growth pays for growth,” said Smith, citing SUD policy that requires residential development projects to pay for needed infrastructure upgrades. Beavers proposed “the most equitable” resolution would be “cost sharing” among the three development projects depending on the amount of increased capacity each required. Beavers said he suggested “upsizing” the line at the time of the highway project when upgrades were already underway, which would have made the undertaking less costly. The University did not respond to his suggestion. Evaluation by an engineer will be needed to determine if upsizing is needed and by how much.

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