Water utility receives $102,700 USDA grant

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  A Carter County utility picked up an emergency grant to fund a water line replacement project that left over a dozen county residents without water for several weeks.
  U.S. Rep. William Jenkins, R-Tenn., presented North Elizabethton Water Co-op officials a check of $102,700 for an Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant at the Carter County Courthouse on Tuesday morning. The grant was provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development division.
  "One of the agencies I feel best about in the whole government is Rural Development," said Jenkins.
  The grant enables the co-op to fund costs associated from replacing a 2-inch water line extending one-half mile on Mays Road with a 4-inch pipe made of ductile iron. The former water line was made unusable after a chemical spill was detected on Sept. 12 along the roadway by utility workers.
  "We are excited for our customers," said Jim Williams, chairman of the North Elizabethton utility's board of directors. "There was no way to afford to pay that out of our pocket."
  The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) began an investigation into the source of a chemical, later determined to be a type of solvent. Samples were also taken from beneath the road to determine whether the chemical had migrated into the soil. The chemical had softened the old water pipe causing a significant water leak.
  TDEC officials subsequently ordered the utility to disconnect the line from the rest of the system and temporarily suspended water service in the area. The department also ordered the utility to replace all existing PVC water lines on Mays Road, Hillsboro Road, and a portion of Minton Hollow Road.
  Several North Elizabethton utility customers were without potable water for approximately three weeks after the incident.
  "Without water your world comes to an end," said County Mayor Dale Fair who added that during this week of Thanksgiving, he was thankful the water project had found funding.
  Williams said four families were directly affected when the water service was stopped when the chemical was discovered. The new pipe was installed by a construction company contracted by the utility. Williams said the funding would cover the costs associated with replacing the water line on Mays Road.
  The USDA Rural Development Agency in Tennessee provides assistance through nine area offices strategically located throughout the state. The agency assisted rural Tennessee areas with over $273 million in financial assistance during fiscal year 2004 according to the USDA. The funding includes monies for housing projects and home loans as well as utility projects.
  "We've had this program for several years," said Charles Brooks, area director of USDA Rural Development in Tennessee. "We have done a lot of projects, a few more in the utility area."
  Jenkins said that while constituents asked him about the wisdom of some government spending, the water grant reflected well-appropriated use of public dollars.
  "This is precisely the type of project that we're doing for people who need it in America," he said.
  The North Elizabethton utility serves roughly 497 customers and purchases its potable water from the city of Elizabethton. The utility is required to monitor water quality for its customers and submit a report to TDEC. State environmental officials said in September that the solvent was not believed to have entered the water line or supply, but samples of water supplying the area were taken and analyzed.
  Williams said state environmental officials had not released any information about the source of the chemical spill.