Staff file photo / Water towers holding the town of Signal Mountain's water supply stand on James Boulevard. The town is connecting its water lines with those of Walden's Ridge Utility District to provide the town with a backup water source in an emergency.

The town of Signal Mountain is moving forward with completing an interconnect between its water lines and those of Walden's Ridge Utility District, which would provide the town with a backup water source in an emergency.

The decades-long discussion of the need for an interconnect was brought back to the forefront in the wake of Tennessee American Water's recent water main break which left many Chattanoogans without water for days. Though most Signal Mountain town residents were unaffected, the break did cause the town to come close to running out of water, with the amount of water in the town's tank going down to less than half its normal level, according to Councilman Bill Lusk.

In 2012, the council commissioned a study from engineering firm Arcadis for the interconnect. Based on that report, a bore was dug for a 12-inch line that the town planned to run under Taft Highway at its intersection with Miles Road, to connect with WRUD's lines.

But the pipe was never laid and the connection never completed. Lusk, who was on the council when it initially voted for the interconnect, said he didn't know why it wasn't completed.

Town Manager Boyd Veal said he spoke recently with WRUD general manager Ron West, who questioned whether connecting the planned 12-inch line with the town's existing 6-inch lines would be sufficient. WRUD has already added a 12-inch line across the McCoy Farm and Gardens property up to the intersection of Miles and Taft for the interconnect.

While Arcadis' study included the option of the town adding its own 12-inch line down Miles Road to James Boulevard, it also stated that connecting to the existing 6-inch lines would take in the same volume of water, said Veal.

Mayor Dan Landrum said the 12-inch line wouldn't make sense for the town unless there was an addition that would take the enlarged line all the way to the town's water tower farther down James, which would cost significantly more. Veal added that the advantage of that option is also limited unless WRUD were the town's primary source of water rather than just an emergency backup provider.

Signal Mountain's estimated cost to connect using the town's existing 6-inch lines is $69,000, some of which was paid when the bore was dug years ago. Remaining work would include laying pipes under Taft Highway at Miles Road and connecting to the existing pipes.

The addition of 12-inch line running up Miles to James would cost an extra $200,000-210,000, while still falling short of connecting to the water tower.

Lusk said he feels a 12-inch line running all the way to the tank makes the most sense. That would be capable of supplying water to all of Signal's water customers as well as WRUD's, he said.

"You ought to pay the higher cost for the pipe if you're going to dig the trench anyway," said Lusk.

Landrum said he agrees, and feels the best situation for the town is to have two competing water companies to keep rates low. If the town were to run a 12-inch line all the way to the water tower on James, said Veal, that would give the town the ability to completely switch water vendors from current provider Tennessee American to WRUD.

But currently, Landrum said he thinks the first priority should be getting the emergency interconnect done and purchasing electronic meters so those readings don't have to be done manually any longer, which would save on manpower.

The council voted unanimously to move ahead with the emergency interconnect using the town's existing 6-inch lines.

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