Tennessee American Covets Dade Reservoir Land, Water Authority, says Rumley

A view from Sells Lane of the meadowland Dade County has optioned on Lookout Creek. County Boss Rumley says Dade had better buy it before Tennessee Water does.

Editor's note: Since the publication of this article, Daphne Kirksey of Tennessee American responded to say her company had made no offer on the Lookout Creek acreage, as county boss Rumley alleged below. "That's the first we have ever heard about that piece of property," she said.

Responding to persistent public questioning about the Dade County Commission’s plan to purchase a $500,000 tract of land along Lookout Creek for the ultimate purpose of building a dam and reservoir lake for public drinking water, County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley hinted at Thursday night’s commission meeting that Dade had better snap it up before it was bought out from under the county’s nose.

Asked to elaborate after the Jan. 4 meeting, Rumley said that Tennessee American Water, which supplies Chattanooga with water from the Tennessee River, had also been sniffing around the Lookout Creek acreage currently owned by Jack Sells.

“They made a counteroffer when they found out we were interested in it,” said the county boss.

Rumley said Tennessee American wants access to the Lookout Creek water because it’s a purer source of drinking water, with fewer pollutants than the Tennessee River. “It’s just a money-making venture for them,” he said. “It’s just a business.”

Tennessee American is a for-profit, investor-owned utility, a subsidiary of the national publicly traded corporation American Water, which is represented by the symbol AWK on the New York Stock Exchange.

Tennessee American supplies water to some northwestern Georgia communities as well as to Chattanooga. Now, said Rumley, it wants to add Dade to its clientele, according to two representatives from the company who recently met with Rumley and Dade Water Authority manager Doug Anderton. “That’s the people that a year ago, they wanted to buy the whole water authority,” said Rumley.

Rumley said Tennessee American had spoken to the Dade Water Authority board of directors about taking over Dade’s water within the last year. But Sherri Walker, office manager at Dade Water, remembered it had been longer ago than that, and she obligingly went through minutes of the board’s meetings until she found the reference. This is from the Sept. 19, 2014, water board minutes:

“Gayle Domanski with Tennessee American Water also appeared before the board to discuss her company’s interest in purchasing the Authority. After listening to Ms. Domanski’s presentation, the board expressed their desire for the Authority’s ownership to remain as is.”

On Thursday, Chairman Rumley expressed a similar desire. Chattanooga, he said, is “at the mercy” of Tennessee American, with little power to resist when the company raises rates. “The city has tried to take it over many times,” he said.

Dade Water differs from Tennessee American in that it is a nonprofit “authority,” or branch of the state government, organized in 1958 to supply water to a growing Dade community. “It’s basically owned by the people of Dade County,” said Ms. Walker.

Both Doug Anderton of the water authority in a Thursday interview, as well as Rumley at the Thursday night meeting, reiterated that plans for building a dam and reservoir were still in Dade’s misty future. The immediate action item, both stressed, was procuring the Lookout Creek acreage.

The Planet has requested, but not yet received, confirmation from Tennessee American that it wishes to acquire the Dade Water Authority, and that it has put an offer on the Lookout Creek property.

Dade commissioners voted unanimously this June to approve $50,000 to option a 60-or-so-acre tract off Sells Lane for the project. At Thursday's meeting, they confirmed it was the county that had bulldozed a new entrance into the acreage, for the purpose of allowing access to archeologists, surveyors and other parties necessary for pre-sale inspection of the land.

The Dade Planet will report further on the reservoir project, and the county commission meeting, in subsequent articles.

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