Heavy rains renew discussion of Masengill Springs’ affect on water drainage

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 11:54 am

This photo, taken by Joe Stibler, shows the color of the runoff near West Economy Road in Morristown following a storm.

This photo, taken by Joe Stibler, shows the color of the runoff near West Economy Road in Morristown following a storm.

Morristown city officials are attempting to locate the source of a diesel-like odor and a fuel-like sheen on runoff water flowing northward from the Masengill Springs commercial development on West Andrew Johnson Highway.

Another complaint lodged by North Economy Road resident Joe Stibler is the volume of runoff during recent heavy rains exceeded flow prior to the development.

Stibler claims developers asserted their stormwater-control plan for Masengill Springs would reduce runoff, and that hasn’t happened.

For many years, the area has flooded during torrential rains.

City officials and Morristown City Councilmembers don’t appear to question complaints about the diesel odor or the sheen on the water that suggests the presence of a petroleum product.

Opinions differ, however, on whether the development has worsened the flood events that occur during downpours.

City government’s stormwater team met Tuesday in an effort to identify the case, but there are no easy answers, according to Morristown City Administrator Tony Cox.

“We have looked into this problem before without finding a source,” the city administrator said. “Our current approach is a more systematic method which may take a little longer, but will find the source of the problem (or problems).”

A complication, Cox says, is the diesel-like odor isn’t always present, which makes assessing the problem difficult. The city administrator says staff members are investigating the possibility a ruptured underground fuel storage tank is the cause.

Decades ago, a large machinery company was located at or near the current Forenta site. The chance exists that used cutting oil was discarded on the property at a time when federal and state regulations involving the disposal of petroleum distillates were far different.

In addition to complaints about the amount of water flowing past his home during storms, Stibler says the color of the runoff has changed and now matches the exposed soil at Masengill Springs.

“We found, in terms of the erosion, most every place you look in town has water that’s muddy. We did find that some work being done on West Economy was contributing silt across the Masengill property, across the site Mr. Stibler referred to,” Cox said. “… We did find that the silt fence in the Masengill property did perform as expected. The retention pond did perform. There was not additional water from the Masengill site. We did have a great deal of water contributed from the entire watershed based on the amount of rain we had.”

Stibler says he hasn’t ruled out contacting the federal Environmental Protection Agency about the problem, in part, because he believes the muddy runoff poses a danger to Cherokee Lake.

Stibler says he believes the reddish-brown runoff could be mitigated with silt fences, devices that trap soil from flowing water.

Cox said MUS is installing a force main near the site that need some silt fencing and they’ve agreed to get that installed. However, he said, it appears the measures in place at the Massengill Springs site are doing their job.

“We continue to try and find any way we can to work on that. I think to point fingers and blame the Masengill development is simply not accurate,” Cox said.

Councilmember Kay Senter agreed that the dark colored water was not chiefly coming from the Masengill Springs site, but indicated she understood developers would improve the overall water flow previously coming from the site.

“That’s the part we need to follow up and address and make sure that they are doing,” Senter said, adding that water seems more rapid than it has in the past.

In response to a question from Councilmember Dennis Alvis, Cox noted the work is far from done in terms of establishing the drainage water flow.

“It is definitely midstream in terms of the construction project,” he said.

-By Robert Moore, Tribune Staff Writer

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