$3,350,000 price tag for Fish Springs/Little Milligan water

Photo By David Boyd
Vernon Kirk of First Tennessee Development District, tells Little Milligan residents that utility water could be just 2 years away.

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
No matter how good a project is, nothing moves until you get money, including a proposal to bring utility water to residents in the Fish Springs/Little Milligan area.
That's the message Vernon Kirk of First Tennessee Development District delivered to local residents Thursday evening as they gathered at Little Milligan Elementary School to hear a status report.
Besides Kirk, Carter County Mayor Dale Fair, Sharon Church and members of the board of directors from Carderview Utility District, Gary Tysinger of Tysinger, Hampton and Partners, Gay Irwin of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Michael Hughes, director of the Watauga River Regional Water Authority, and Roger Booher of Tennessee Association of Utility Districts also were on hand to answer residents' questions.
County Mayor Fair told the group that when he took office almost a year ago, "One of the first things I had to do was buy bottled water for Little Milligan Elementary. We've gone 360 days almost, and now of course, water is not an issue, as far as rainwater; but the other type of water we're still very much concerned about."
After taking office, Fair began working with Sen. Rusty Crowe, TDEC and other agencies to explore what the options were for extending utility water to the area.
"We live in a hilly part of the country and have a lot of rock, so it's kind of expensive to put in water lines," he said. "But it's one of those rights, I think, that everybody have good water."
Kirk said total cost of the water project is estimated at $3,350,000 -- a staggering amount for this small mountain community. But there is funding available and the group hopes to take full advantage of it and possibly run lines from Carderview Utility District in Butler within two years.
Late last year, Rural Development came out with a new program, emergency water funding, which provides $10,000-$15,000 to do a preliminary engineering report (PER) and environmental study. "We jumped on it and got it approved," Kirk said, and then tried to put it all together in time to meet a July 1 deadline. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
"The first thing you've got to do to get any funding is to get your preliminary engineering report to figure out what it's going to cost, if it's feasible to put in, and what you're going to develop. So we got that funding. With that same emergency grant there was a $500,000 emergency water grant. Well, $500,000 don't do much to get the water over here," he said.
The cost just to bring water across the Butler Bridge was estimated at more than $300,000, according to Kirk. "Just to get the water line on the bridge don't serve the people. We needed more money."
The Community Development Block Grant program offers up to $500,000 in funding under "imminent threat," Kirk said, which is available to communities with contaminated or threatened water sources.
"So we wanted to get the imminent threat CDBG funding of $500,000 and the Rural Development $500,000 and put in Phase I -- get the water from Butler across the bridge and get it up to the tank," Kirk said. "It had to be approved in the state office in Nashville and then go to Washington prior to July 1. Well, by the time we went through the paperwork of getting the engineer selected to do the PER ... and then start on the environmental," the deadline had passed.
"Right now we're looking at some additional money. We're still going after the Rural Development $500,000 emergency grant, we're going after the $500,000 CDBG imminent threat money. But this project right now is estimated to be $3,350,000 ... so we needed more money," he said.
Another problem is that Rural Development is funded through the federal government, and until the new federal budget is approved Oct. 1, Rural Development "is basically out of money," Kirk said. "Put an application in now, they're going to hold you off till October."
So what Kirk and those involved plan to do is go after the whole $3,350,000. "We're going to go to Rural Development for an additional $1.6 million grant and a $750,000 loan," he said. The loan would be paid back over 38 years.
"It may be as low as 3 percent. Right now, the interest rate is 4-1/4 percent. That's going to leave you making an annual payment of $33,000 to $34,000 a year." With approximately 225 customers, about $26 of a resident's water bill would go to repay the loan, he said.
If Rural Development does not put the emergency funding back into its budget for next year, Kirk said, "then we'll jump that $1.6 million up to $2.1 million. But we're going pretty much after the maximum grant on this program." It is also possible that the group could get some funding from Housing and Urban Development.
Kirk said applications for the money will be submitted by Oct. 1 and if all goes well, the group could get a letter sometime in December saying that the money is available. If that should happen, then the engineer could be turned loose in January to do his final design, which is estimated to take six to eight months. When completed, the study must go to TDEC in Nashville for review.
"Once it's all approved, it's bid. That's another month. Then after you have a low bidder, it takes another month for him to get his performance attainment bond, and after that you can turn him loose. Construction time is probably close to a year," Kirk said.
"You're not going to have the water in the spigot anytime soon, but you're closer than what you ever have been," he said.
The grant money would pay for each residential customer's tap fee and also to run the line from the tap to the house and tie in.
"You will have to tie into this system and disconnect from your existing system," Kirk said. Existing sources may be retained for watering yards, gardens, or animals, he said, but they have to be separated from the new system.
Any business, church, campground and school will have to pay a tap fee, he said.
"Usually they'll extend that line about 400 feet from the main water line. If you're past 400 feet or so, you may have to pay that additional expense," Kirk said.