Water authority outlines plan for regional water source

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF
mharrell@starhq.com

   Proper financing often determines the success or failure of a project. Such is the case with the Watauga River Regional Authority's (WRWA) attempt to provide the area with a regional water source.
   Members of the authority met Monday night to discuss financing options and a proposed plan of attack for the project that will provide area residents with utility water from the Watauga River.
   Michael Hughes, a representative with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, attempted to give members a sense of direction. "We have brought together ideas from the last year or so to try to get something on paper to show where you want to go and how you want to get there from where you are today," Hughes said.
   He highlighted securing funding for the project as the number one step in actions he recommended to the authority. Hughes suggested the authority enlist help from the First Tennessee Development District for grant administration.
   Hughes provided WRWA members with more information on funding sources for the project, including flat rates, utility surcharges and improvement districts. Some residents may see increases in their water bill in order to offset the cost of developing an intake facility and treating the water, and members of the authority are weighing financing options carefully to make sure fees are as fair as possible.
   If the authority adopts a flat rate fee, residents, both city and county, would pay the same amount regardless of the amount of water they consume. The utility surcharge, however, would be based on the assumption that, the more water residents use, the more they pay.
   The third source of funding discussed was the development of improvement districts. If the committee were to adopt this means of funding, only residents benefiting from the water source would pay for related fees.
   The WRWA received a state grant in the amount of $999,000 to pay for engineering studies in order to get the project under way and must now come up with $491,125 in matched funding. Finding a recurring source of income for the initial cost of the regional water source is a top priority.
   "We are talking about the initial funding here. Hopefully the wholesale of water will take care of the costs later," Chairman, Dale Fair said. "We have to decide how to get it started."
   Fair admitted the authority is able do little until they receive funding to back the project.
   Elizabethton Planning and Development Director, David Ornduff, gave an update on the status of grants the WRWA has applied for. He stated that six letters requesting grant money had been sent out, but he has only received two responses.
   According to Ornduff, the state of Tennessee sent a letter committing 100 percent support of the project. The letter was forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta for approval.
   Members of the authority must wait for approval of grants to move forward, and Ornduff assured them no further actions concerning the grants are needed at this time.
   The authority hopes to receive information regarding its requests for grant money by its next meeting in January. The December meeting was postponed in order to give members time to research the funding options available.
   "I hope Santa Clause is good to us and in January we have some good news," Fair said.