WRWA votes to hire director

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Watauga River Regional Water Authority voted Monday evening to offer the job of project manager/director to a man who was instrumental in development of the water authority.
   According to County Executive Dale Fair, the position was advertised on two Web sites, in one utility magazine, and in three newspapers, including the Tennessean in Nashville, the Knoxville News Sentinel, and the Elizabethton Star.
   Fair said that before Monday's regularly scheduled meeting, "We invited all members of the water authority to come to our personnel committee meeting," held just prior to the 5 p.m. meeting.
   The personnel committee reviewed the 14 resumes it had received for the position and narrowed it to five that committee members discussed on an individual basis. "Of that five, one resume received a unanimous decision from all members at the meeting tonight -- six first-place votes," Fair said.
   The motion was then made by Owen Pate to interview Charles Michael Hughes of Johnson City and determine if a resolution can be reached on a pay and benefits package. The motion was seconded by Richard Tester and approved.
   The water authority, which is made up of the same representatives as the personnel committee, then approved the recommendation without discussion. Fair said he hopes to have a director in place on or before July 1.
   The water authority spent approximately $700 advertising the position and now has $12,624 in revenue remaining.
   Hughes is currently a Community Development consultant with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Prior to accepting that position in 2001, he formerly was manager of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's Environmental Assistance Center in Johnson City. In that capacity, Hughes was instrumental in the development and organization of the Watauga River Regional Water Authority, which was created by a private act of the Tennessee General Assembly in April 2000.
   He also was heavily involved in Mountain City's development of the George Lowe Spring water source, and coordinated emergency response during the Roan Mountain flood of 1998 and the North American Rayon Corp. fire.
   In other action Monday, Fair said that on May 1 he received a letter from Freda Lockhart at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 4 in Atlanta stating that the water authority qualified for Title VI and that it had been signed and approved. Later in May, he said, he received another letter from EPA stating that the water authority had been awarded $86,700 in grant money which can be used to plan, design and construct wastewater, stormwater and drinking water infrastructure projects.
   According to EPA, the funds may be used to finance up to 55 percent of the project's total cost, with a 45 percent local match.
   Fair said June will be the first month the water authority will receive a 50 cent surcharge per water customer from the seven utility districts. The first installment from the utilities is due by June 15. "We have received the city's and hopefully will be getting six other checks before the 15th," he said.
   "Our concern when I first came on as chair was we ought to have some kind of income frame in order to start hiring a director and doing some action. We have a small income stream now to do that. We are on the radar screen with this EPA grant, and I feel like once we have a director/project manager, this will move along a lot faster," Fair said.
   Former Democratic Party Chairman John Fetzer, who was a member of the Elizabethton City Council from 1965 to 1981 when improvements were being made to the city water system, addressed the group. Fetzer told water authority members, "It takes several years for what you fellows are trying to do. ... You're talking about 10 to 12 years to see water flowing."
   Rather than developing a regional water system in the Watauga River, as has been discussed, Fetzer said, "I think you would be better off to put a system at the Wilbur Dam area and a tank on Beck Mountain where it would be more centrally located," rather than on a mountain in the Hunter community. "It costs a lot of money to get water up a steep mountain," he said.
   Fair said that is one of the issues engineers will consider as the project progresses.