There was a hint of spring in the air as a man unloaded plastic jugs from a minivan and lined them up on the little wall at the artesian well on Loves Creek Road, a popular destination for people who prefer their water chemical-free (the county health department tests it quarterly).
Just across the creek, kids were playing in Spring Place Park while birds skimmed the water’s sparkling surface on this cold, sunny day.
Who could have guessed that an ankle-deep puddle of raw sewage laden with flushable wipes, condoms and toilet paper is pooled on the creek bank downstream, awaiting the next rain? A raised manhole cover stands on the edge of the stinky mess next to a vertical green warning sign marking an underground overflow valve.
An email from the Knoxville Utilities Board sent in response to questions about the situation said KUB has remedied the Loves Creek problem by installing smart technology into one of the blown manholes in the roadbed and cleaning the area up, but doesn’t mention the standing sewage on the east bank of the creek. It labels the SSOs the unavoidable consequence of recent torrential rains. Read KUB’s full response here: KUB response on Loves Creek overflow.
Citizen watchdog James McMillan calls it a wholly avoidable health hazard. And that’s just for starters.
McMillan has been bedeviling local officials after battling the effects of flooding and sanitary sewer overruns on his family’s Shannondale-area farm for two decades. The McMillans filed – and won – a lawsuit against the utility that helped trigger legal action by the city of Knoxville that resulted in PACE 10, a sweeping consent order that required KUB to spend 10 years and more than half a billion dollars improving, modernizing and expanding infrastructure and reducing/eliminating SSOs.
“We sued KUB because of the same things you see today. They refused to fix any manhole above, on or below our property, and at that time, they told us it was a simple risk-management assessment.”
McMillan is the citizen mentioned in KUB’s response, which cites a complaint on Dec. 28, and he has been watching this site for years.
“This is not an isolated incident,” he said. “In fact, I’m calling this criminal negligence. There are many other locations like this – dozens, if not more – in their service area. They are not addressing the sewage problem, and this little site proves it. I was driving through there and stopped and took a picture instead of calling it in.
“I took another one up closer to the artesian well. Next time I checked, there were three manhole covers popped, with sewage escaping. The third one was blown completely off, and this time there was a KUB guy sitting (in a service truck). His reason for sitting there was to prevent vehicles from driving in the manhole and damaging their cars.”
The email from KUB said city and state regulators are satisfied with its efforts regarding SSOs.
“We have been in contact with the TDEC and the City of Knoxville throughout the event who indicated they are appreciative of KUB’s response to the unprecedented floods. We were told that KUB is not unique and that the flooding is creating the same type of issues throughout the region. The State has previously praised KUB on its management of its wastewater system and its Century II (which now encompasses PACE 10) capital improvement program.”
McMillan, who continues to document SSOs, is not buying it. He said KUB is ignoring the blown manhole down on the creek bank by only acknowledging the three manholes in the roadbed.
“This is a band-aid. This is treating a symptom, not fixing the disease or the cause.”