published Monday, July 11th, 2011

Athens to receive $2 million for clean water

By Paul Leach

ATHENS, Tenn. — Athens will receive $2 million in federal and state funds to upgrade its drinking water system through Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation.

The city is one of eight municipalities recently selected to receive funding through the State Revolving Loan Program, which is administered by TDEC, for drinking water and wastewater construction projects. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants fund the program, and the state adds a 20 percent match.

The debt terms only require the repayment of $1.6 million over 20 years at a 3.18 percent interest rate, while $400,000 of the loan principal does not have to be repaid.

“Community investments in our drinking water and wastewater systems are vital to maintaining environmental and public health,” TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said in a news release. “The principal forgiveness provision helps local communities accomplish this work in difficult economic times.”

The much-needed upgrades to the city’s drinking water system are global in nature, according to Wayne Scarbrough, assistant general manager for the Athens Utility Board.

He said Athens, like most of the nation’s municipalities, faces the challenge of a decaying infrastructure for safely and efficiently delivering clean water to its residents. Unfortunately, he added, the economic downturn of the last decade hit just about the time those 60-year-old systems needed to be replaced.

Planned projects include a liquid chlorination system, a pump-based backwash system, a cover for outside filtration pools and bank restoration at the utility’s well operations at Oostanaula Creek, according to Scarbrough.

Scarbrough said he was especially pleased to replace the current chlorination system, which relies on pressurized tanks of chlorine gas to kill waterborne bacteria, with a safer liquid system. The gas system, he said, requires practiced emergency response in case of an accidental release.

Scarbrough said the utility board recently completed a two-year series of rate increases to meet operating expenses for the next five years, but the hikes were not intended to be large enough to encompass the infrastructure upgrades.

As a consequence, the utility has been able to fund only essentially “cosmetic” repairs and to replace equipment instead of tackling the core problems of the town’s drinking water system.

The low-interest loan debt for the water system upgrades will not lead to a rate increase, he said.

The upgrade projects should launch no later than the end of November and conclude within a year, according to Scarbrough.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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