Sewage debates: Shelby County, Memphis at odds over sewer usage

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The fight over sewer systems continues between City of Memphis and Shelby County.

Memphis said it will not provide new sewer connections to anyone outside city limits, but Shelby County Commission Chairwoman Heidi Shafer said she's not even sure that is legal.

City of Memphis said its decision is about putting city citizens first. The city said the sewer system has limited capacity, and it needs to undergo major upgrades.

Shafer said that decision puts growth in the county at risk.

"I know the city said they would work through them case-by-case, but I don't think that's a path forward for the future," Shafer said.

Shafer said Memphis received federal grants decades ago for two sewer treatment plants to be used as a regional system. Because of those grants, Shafer thinks Memphis has to provide for the region, not just the city.

"We've got to get our hands on the documents, see what the documents exactly say, and then let everybody's lawyers talk," Shafer said.

If the county is forced to build its own sewage system, it will take about five years.

"If you're going to say no growth can happen in Shelby County outside the City of Memphis for five years, when we're the ones who are funding the schools and they are wanting us to chip in for MATA and everything, that's really a non-starter," Shafer said.

Shafer said legal action is definitely a possibility.

"Everything is on the table, but of course we always want to try cooperation first. Cooperation doesn't cost a thing," Shafer said.

Shafer said she recently had a good meeting with Mayor Jim Strickland. She hopes a compromise can be reached by creating some sort of transition plan that makes sense for both groups.

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