Judge grants temporary injunction on illegal water system in Stoney Creek

Zach Vance • Apr 20, 2018 at 11:27 PM

A Nashville Chancery Court granted a temporary injunction last week against a Stoney Creek water system that has been in operation since the 1950s, but which state environmental officials contend is operating illegally by distributing contaminated water.

On April 10, Chancellor Russell Perkins ordered the Dry Hollow Water Association Inc., an organization that uses unfiltered water from Lower Nidifer Branch to serve approximately 39 customers in the upper Dry Hollow Road area, from allowing any new connections or line extensions.

“They can’t add any more people to their service area or their customer base, that’s the first step,” Elizabeth McCarter, senior counsel for the Tennessee Attorney General’s Environmental Division, said. 

The court also directed the Association, whose last president was listed as Kevin Campbell, to issue written “boil water advisories” to each customer served by the system, just in case the water system’s customers opt to continue using the contaminated water system.

In August 2017, state officials conducted two tests of the Dry Hollow water system and reported finding E.coli and other contaminants, ultimately leading to various fines and legal action on behalf of the state.

The injunction’s final order was that Dry Hollow Water Association officials must pay for the installation of a single water tap on a nearby property so the Association’s customers would have access to a single source of filtrated water.

“There is another water system, called First Utility District of Carter County, which has sort of stepped in to help a little bit with the service of Dry Hollow because First Utility District is geographically close to Dry Hollow,” McCarter said.

“What they’ve done is (First Utility District) has agreed to provide Dry Hollow with a meter or tap that can be installed on the physical property of one of Dry Hollow’s members. That’s actually been done and Dry Hollow had to pay for that.”

The order states that the Association’s 39 customers must be allowed to draw treated drinking water from the First Utility District’s certified drinking water system, while the Association must foot the monthly bill to maintain the clean water source.

“From here on out, until we get a final remedy in this lawsuit, all the members in Dry Hollow now have available to them from this tap treated drinking water,” McCarter said. “It’s one individual tap. It’s going to have a lock on it so that only members of Dry Hollow have keys to access it.”

Based on a liability release document attached to court records, the individual tap was installed on property owned by Jim and Adeline Hyder, but the cost to install the tap was not disclosed.

First Utility District of Carter County Manager Jon Nidiffer did not return a call from the Johnson City Press seeking comment.

In the meantime, the Association will be responsible for maintaining the tap and for paying all costs associated with removing the master meter and spigot once a permanent fix is established.

In 1987, the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board entered into an agreement with Dry Hollow Water Association to discontinue operating its water system by March 15, 1987, and if it continued operating as a public water system after April 1, 1987, a civil penalty would be issued.

Back then, the Association had 32 connections, defined under state law as a public water supply, which has to abide by state regulations. A private water supply is defined as serving one to 14 service connections and has no regulations.

According to state records, in June 2017, an unidentified person in the process of buying a home served by the Dry Hollow Water Association contacted the First Utility District of Carter County about its water quality, and after no sampling records were found, the individual approached state officials.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Johnson City office began investigating the water system in June, performed tests in August and met with the Dry Hollow Water Association’s representatives on Aug. 29.

A letter was officially mailed on Aug. 24 notifying Dry Hollow Association that its system “appeared to be operating illegally” and explained the actions needed to be in compliance.

“(TDEC) determined that the respondent was performing no water treatment or routine monitoring for turbidity or chemical and pathogenic contaminants and that untreated water from Lower Nidifer Branch was being provided to customers through the distribution system,” the complaint states.

Speaking to the Johnson City Press in November, the Association’s former president, Kevin Campbell, contested that his unfiltered water from his home had never caused him or his family any illness.

“I’ve lived here for 33 years, and I’ve not had any issues whatsoever with my water,” Campbell said then. “It’s just straight water. When we get heavy rains, of course the stream gets up and you get a little bit of sediment at that point in time, but as far as it staying dirty, no.”

Campbell also could not be reached for comment, nor could the Association’s Kingsport-based attorney, Mark Dessauer.

According to a Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman, the First Utility District of Carter County has applied for funding from the agency’s State Revolving Fund Loan Program to, among other things, run a new line to serve households in the Dry Hollow area.

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