ROBERTSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — A rural Robertson County town is fighting back against the massive growth coming its way.
Residents in Cedar Hill oppose the construction of a 700-home neighborhood on what is now open farmland.
They argue a privately owned wastewater treatment facility cannot safely handle sewage from the hundreds of new homes.
Cedar Hill is forty miles north of Nashville and is surrounded by lush farmland.
Not much changes here, the biggest recent development was a new Dollar General.
But now residents like James Clark are putting up signs to "save their town" by stopping development of a "mega subdivision."
"You're going to ruin the essence of what makes Cedar Hill, Cedar Hill," Clark said.
The signs seek to stop "high-density housing."
The proposed neighborhood would more than double Cedar Hill's current population.
Farmer John Bagwell said it's not safe.
He pointed to the tiny, unmanned, and privately owned wastewater treatment facility that currently serves the Dollar General and the local school.
He said the small facility could not possibly treat sewage from hundreds of newly built homes.
"We're just not set up for that kind of housing right now," Bagwell said.
"I'm not against these people building houses, I'm against that many houses on that small acreage," Bagwell said.
Tennessee Wastewater, based in Smyrna, operates the treatment plant.
Its parent company Adenus Wastewater Solutions owns more than a hundred small plants across the state including at least ten in Robertson County.
The company told residents it can expand the Cedar Hill facility - allowing it to handle more homes.
But residents remember back in 2013 when a sinkhole drained approximately a million gallons of partially treated sewage from the plant's lagoon.
Some of the partially treated wastewater also called "grey water" flowed into the creek on Bagwell's farm.
"The system already failed once... my cows were actually drinking out of it at the time," Bagwell said.
Bagwell is upset he was never warned about the failure.
"Nobody said a word. Nobody came and knocked on my door and said 'hey, you need to stay out of that creek,'" Bagwell said.
Residents point a history of failures for Adenus plants in Robertson County.
In 2014, in nearby Coopertown, 7 million gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into Millers Creek.
The mess caused the state to issue an Emergency Order - water contact advisory.
In a statement, the company said the lagoons that failed in Coopertown and Cedar Hill are "no longer in operation."
New ones have been constructed "reviewed and approved" by the state.
But in March of this year, the state cited the company for maintenance issues at a facility near Orlinda after people reported smelling sewage.
Residents cite the small wastewater treatment plant and the sinkhole-prone land - as the main reasons infrastructure is not ready for a "mega neighborhood."
Robertson County Mayor Billy Vogle admits infrastructure is being stretched to the limit.
"Everybody's coming because we're Mayberry up here in Robertson County, everybody wants a piece of Mayberry, and when they come here they don't leave," Vogle said.
"The people here don't want to see growth. A lot of them say, 'stop it, stop it, stop it.' But I can't tell people what to do with their farmland," Vogle said.
He said out-of-state developers are now paying big money for farmland and then turning it into housing.
And there's not much the county can do about it.
"It's hard to tell a man he can't sell his land when most of these farms, that's the farmer's 401K," Vogle said.
James Clark said the county planning commission should limit the number of houses.
The problem becomes - the more houses on the land - the more valuable it is.
"I hate to use this term, but it's so inconsiderate of everybody around them," Clark said.
"What you are going to do is ruin what you see behind me," Clark said pointing to open farmland.
Cedar Hill knows growth is coming.
"It's going to come sooner or later. It's going to come, but we need infrastructure before it comes here," Bagwell said.
Residents worry the small, unmanned treatment plants are not inspected often enough by the state and that problems may not be caught before there is a large spill.
Tennessee Wastewater declined an interview, but here is their full statement:
" The lagoons that failed in 2013 and 2014 as a result of sinkholes are no longer in operation. In 2018 a new 60,000 gallon per day sand filter treatment facility was constructed for Cedar Hill and a 90,000 gallon per day sand filter treatment facility was constructed at Maple Green. Both of these facilities have been reviewed, approved, and permitted by TDEC. If the wastewater treatment needs of any proposed development results in either facility exceeding its permitted capacity, that facility will either need to be expanded or a new facility constructed – with either option subject to the same review, approval, and permitting by the State. However, regardless of sewer availability, it is still the local government’s decision as to whether a development may move forward subject to its rules, ordinances, and state law."