Some areas of Walker County may soon have access to public water for the first time.
On Dec. 29, 2020, then-Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield approved a resolution to allow Fort Payne Water, based in Alabama, to provide water services to areas of the county in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. About 50-60 families in that area have only ever had access to well water.
"Several of them are having problems with their wells and they have requested some type of water service to be provided," Whitfield said during the meeting. "Walker County Water and Sewer authority looked at this, but it was going be a large capital investment to try to reach that area."
Fort Payne will be the ninth water service company authorized to provide utilities in the county, whose 446 square miles place it in the top quarter of Georgia counties based on land mass and can make centralized services difficult.
Fort Payne Water Works already has water lines in neighboring Dade and Chattooga counties, and current Lookout Mountain residents approached the company to see if it would be willing to build out lines in their area.
In meeting with residents and officials, the utility agreed to a $2,000 charge to connect properties to their lines for households that request connection before construction begins. That price will rise to $4,000 after the fact. Residents have the option to finance the costs.
"I can say several members in that community approached us this year (2020) multiple times very anxious because they're having severe problems with their wells," Whitfield said, "and [for] some of them, to try to drill new wells or to deal with those conditions that they have is going to exceed what their investment would be to hook to public water."
Fort Payne Water Executive Director Paul Nail said the company has to get confirmation about who will regulate the lines before construction can begin. Other lines held by the company in Georgia are overseen by Alabama's Department of Environmental Management, but Georgia's Environmental Protection Division may be chosen as the regulator for the new lines, which could complicate things, he said.
Once a regulator is decided, Nail said construction can begin once a large majority of residents in the area decide they want to be connected and begin the payment process.
Whitfield said the company is building the lines at no cost or liability to the county and agreed to also install any fire hydrants the county provides along the new water line. This will likely help bring down insurance costs in the area, he added.
"This is the best chance they'll have of getting city water. Nobody else is close to them," said Nail. " Not only are the people having good quality water to drink, but also fire protection, water for fire protection that they don't have now, so it's a big deal. And we're going to need everybody, you know, we're going to need most of the people [in that area to sign on] in order to make it happen."
Once the construction and connections are complete, Whitfield said there will still be some areas of the county without access to public water, but that authorizing another company to sell water will help increase coverage.
"There are still going to be areas in our county that don't have access to public water, but we felt like this was in the best interests of the citizens to allow another company to come in that's not asking for anything from the county and there's, again, there's no liability," he said. "They're working directly with the landowners and the residents."
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