Some of the most powerful men in Tennessee gathered in the tiny community of Sutherland on Friday afternoon to celebrate a the utilities project that will finally be completed.
"This is by far the most frustrating thing I have been involved with ... it has taken three congressman, three county commissioners," said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said, who represents the area in the state Senate.
Sutherland is in an a section of Johnson County not far from the Virginia state line. It is closer for the residents to go to Damascus, Va., than to the county seat in Mountain City.
Sutherland has been in need of public water for many years. County Mayor Larry Potter said the springs have gone bad.
Its location has made it much more difficult than a normal utility project. The closest water provider is the Washington County Service Authority in Virginia. A small Community Development Block Grant that encompassed two states complicated the project. Running a water line through national forest property also complicated the matter.
Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter said the project was first proposed in 2000 under then mayor Curtis Sluder. That project was not approved, but another attempt under Mayor Dick Grayson was approved.
Then the headaches began. "It was a nightmare," Potter said.
Ramsey discussed all the hurdles the project had to overcome. We not only had TDOT (the Tennessee Department of Transportation), we had VDOT (the Virginia Department of Transportation). We had to get approval from the Cherokee National Forest, and there was a recreation area next door that wanted to be be a part of it.
Bill Forrester of the First Tennessee Development Block Grant was just out of college when he wrote the original grant for the project. He has seen the project go through all the hurdles to finally become a reality.
Forrester said the total cost of the project is $790,000 to extend the lines from Washington County Service Authority to the 36 customers in Sutherland. He said the money is coming from a Community Development Block Grant, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service and a local match.
With so much effort expended on the small project, the leaders celebrated on Friday as the project is getting underway.
Ramsey said he has always favored private enterprise over big government, but he said three things that government do best are building roads, building water projects and building sewer projects.
U.S. Representative Phil Roe said it is good when leaders can overcome the various levels of government to get a worthy project done.
Potter said another important reason to celebrate is the completion of the project will free up a new Community Development Block Grant for Johnson County. He said there are several worthy projects, but they could not be funded until the Sutherland Project was accomplished.