Fair discusses county's water problems

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

    This week the wheels were put in motion to solve some the county's water problems. County Executive, Dale Fair, met with officials from the First Tennessee Development District and Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) to discuss long term solutions.
   Several county projects being implemented through the First Tennessee Development District were discussed. However, Fair said that water is the most pressing issue on the table.
   The lack of water in the Little Milligan area has required the most immediate attention, but Fair has been careful to point out there are other areas in the county that also have legitimate water concerns.
   "When we focus on one we don't want to say we are forgetting the others, because they are important too," Fair said. "You have to rate them as far as priority. Some are in crisis situations and some are needing improvements."
   Residents in Simerly Creek are dealing with water quality control issues, and the North Elizabethton Utility is losing water from its lines.
   "If there is one thing Carter Countians should not have to worry about it is water; we are at a head stream," Fair said. "But we are having to worry about our water, the quality of it, and its volume. That should be correctable, but it is going to take time, and it will take money."
   Although the water issues in Simerly Creek and North Elizabethton are being considered, Fair believes the situation in Little Milligan merits the most attention right now.
   He noted there are residents in the Little Milligan community who have more than the quality of their water to be concerned about. They have no water at all.
   Fair stated the county would call on a wide variety of leaders to solve the water crisis in Little Milligan. Representatives with the Hampton Utility District, community leaders, First Tennessee Development District, Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC), the county, and elected officials, are expected to meet to discuss the issue.
   Fair said the meeting could take place as soon as next week. The leaders will decide what can be done to bring relief to the residents in Little Milligan and will come up with a time frame for the solution to be implemented.
   "We want to move as fast as we can, but at the same time we are dealing with tax payers' money and we want to make sure we spend it wisely. We don't want to spend it to correct things we did in haste."
   Fair wants to make sure the changes in the area will fall in line with the overall future vision of the county. He believes the project in Little Milligan should be constructed to work with future changes in the county's water systems.
   Officials are looking at four or five different solutions to the problem in the rural area, but acknowledge all solutions are going to be expensive.  "It is a rural community, due to its topography and mountainous property, it is going to be very expensive to develop a new water system," Fair said. "Most people think you can just run lines, but when you are talking about hills and valleys and things like that, you are talking about treating water."
   Fair stated a decision has to be made whether to connect lines to an already existing utility, or to create a whole new water source situation. He said there are a lot of factors to consider, but the county is committed to supplying water to its residents.    
   The county will look into emergency funding for the Little Milligan water project under the category of imminent threat. A compilation of federal, state, and loaned money will be used to fund the entire project.
   "Looking at the preliminary numbers there is going to probably be some money borrowed," Fair said. "You are not going to get all of the money, so there will be some borrowing. We will try to get as much as we can through grants or through matching, but we have got to supply water."