Sewer, storm water and three-phase electric service were all topics of discussion at the March meeting of the Memphis City Council as the board of aldermen discussed proposals to change municipal utility policies.

Utility Superintendent Stacy Alexander presented a sample policy for mandating motor protection for three-phase electrical services. Under the policy, customers would be required to provide protection for three-phase machinery.

“Customers should know and they probably don’t, that the city can’t really be responsible for a loss of a phase,” said Alexander.

The city’s standard distribution system uses single pole switches and single phase fuses.

However in order to support higher amp machinery, the city does make three-phase service available.

Alexander explained that the three-phase service currently is use in a handful of residential settings as well as around 75 commercial settings.

Unlike standard one-phase service, with a single transformer, three-phase is typically set up with a bank of three transformers, which means added cost of the provider. Alexander noted the city currently charges the same rates for single phase of thee-phase service.

The sample policy establishes code that make it the responsibility of the customer to install protection for its three-phase motors and equipment.

“If there is no protection on the customer’s side of the meter, three-phase motors are in danger of burning up if a phase is lost,” said Alexander.

He added that for insurance purposes, it is difficult to establish negligence on the service provider when a phase is lost.

Alderman Lucas Remley questioned if it was good business to force customers to protect themselves from the provider’s mishaps. “Wouldn’t we be better served to focus on the necessary maintenance and upkeep to keep our service from dropping a phase?” he asked.

Alexander noted that many times, phase issues are created by accidents or other situations outside of the city’s control,  suggesting that the protection then prevents customers from losing valuable equipment that would not be covered by the city’s insurance.

The council discussed the possibility of securing three-phase protective devices, hopefully at a better rate with a higher quantity purchase, which could then be passed along to the customers at a reduced cost.

The council agreed that customers needed to be educated on the three-phase system and the dangers on losing a phase.

The proposal to update the policy to require protection was tabled.

The council then turned its attention to sewer and waste water policy.

The council approved bill No. 19-5, revising sewer rules and regulations as required as part of the pending USDA project to upgrade the city’s sewer system.

During the discussion, the council addressed lingering issues with residential properties having their ground water perimeter drains attached to the city sewer.

Section 710.200.  prohibits surface runoff and ground water from draining into the sanitary sewer. It states “No person shall make connection of roof downspouts, exterior foundation drains, areaway drains, or other sources of surface runoff or groundwater to a building sewer or building drain which in turn is connected directly or indirectly to a public sanitary sewer.”

However council members noted that the city code also mandates that all sewer construction is inspected and approved by the city prior to being covered, which meant that all past construction which included such illegal connections should have been prevented by such inspections.

“In my opinion we are going to have a hard time forcing anyone to remedy problems that we were supposed to catch before we let them hook into the sewer way back when,” said Alderman Chris Feeney.

Alderman Lucas Remley suggested the council consider adding additional steps to the building permit process that would insure proper inspections prior to sewer upgrades being connected.

The council agreed to review the topic and address the city’s inspection duties, as well as the permitting and fee requirements that already exist in the code.

“We need to better define who is doing the inspections and improve the record keeping so we can be proactive in preventing issues instead of reactive and punishing for noncompliance that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place,” said Feeney.

Remley suggested that once the electric and sewer policies are tuned up, that a public forum be held, with particular attention to local contractors who provide the services, to bring them up to date on new requirements.