Water Authority receives $873,000 grant

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Watauga River Regional Water Authority has received a windfall -- an $873,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
   Carter County Executive Dale Fair said Friday afternoon that he had just opened the package from EPA. "That's kind of big news for our water authority," he said.
   According to the letter dated June 4, the grant application, including the workplan for assistance in developing a regional water system for Carter County and the City of Elizabethton "has been approved in the amount of $873,000," which is subject to applicable EPA statutory and regulatory provisions.
   The regional water project appears to be flowing along. The water authority met last Monday and voted to offer the job of project manager/director to Michael Hughes, former manager of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's Environmental Assistance Center in Johnson City.
   Fair said the 50-cents-per-tap surcharge the county will begin receiving this month will provide funds to hire a director. "Our budget will be approximately $113,000 just from the 50 cents per tap, so we didn't have to have the grant for that," he said.
   But the grant might include funds to help in setting up the director's office, or to defray the cost of traveling to look at other sites which have developed similar systems.
   Fair said the first step in creating the regional water system was to get an income stream. With the 50 cent surcharge imposed by the seven utility districts, the authority has now done that.
   The second step was to hire a director. Fair said he has met with Hughes since the personnel committee vote and that he and Hughes will be meeting with the committee to discuss a pay and benefits package, as well as where the office might be located.
   "Then we'll probably have to come up with a contract since this is a separate entity from the county," Fair said.
   If Hughes decides to accept the director's position, Fair said he is confident Hughes "will take this ball and run with it," because he was instrumental in the development and organization of the water authority, which was created by a private act of the Tennessee General Assembly in April 2000.
   "He's going to be so far ahead of anybody else that may be just as qualified, just because of his personal knowledge," Fair said.