Water Authority gets good news on several fronts

John Thompson • Jan 11, 2012 at 10:44 AM

ELIZABETHTON — With the final piece of financing almost in place, consulting engineer Doug Unger of Jacobs Engineering gave an upbeat update to the board of directors of the Watauga River Regional Water Authority on Tuesday.

He proclaimed two of the four projects for the construction of a water plant at Wilbur Lake to be 100 percent complete. Those completed projects were the “northern connector” and the “southern connector” pipelines.

He said more good news was the recent approval by the Tennessee Local Development Authority for a bond issue that will provide $6.7 million to complete the remainder of the project.

Unger said it has been an 18-month process to get the final piece of funding secured for the project and he hopes the legal aspects for the loan will be completed next week.

Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander, a member of the board and a financial planner, said he did not anticipate any problems in the bonds’ sale.

“I don’t see the bonds even reaching the market,” Alexander said. He believed a mutual fund would probably pick them up as soon as the bonds are available.

“There are no Tennessee tax-free bonds out there right now,” Alexander said. “The bonds will be very attractive.”

Mark Jackson, project manager for Frizzell Construction Co., said he is already preparing for the restart of construction on the water plant after seeing the bond approval from the TLDA.

“We have people that need to get back to work,” Jackson said.

With the completion of the water lines, the board voted unanimously to release the two contractors on the pipeline projects, Merkel Construction and Thomas Inc., from the construction performance bonds.

On the authority’s other major project, providing water for Fish Springs and Little Milligan, WRRWA Executive Director Michael Hughes said the water tank work is now 44 percent complete.

The water line work is currently on hold until water becomes available for testing the lines. It appears the water will be available for testing by March. Final completion of the project is expected to take place in May.

With the end in sight for a project that has taken 10 years, WRRWA Chairman Johnny Mills said a meeting with the citizens in Little Milligan and Fish Springs should be scheduled for February.

“I think it is time to go up and there and have a meeting with those folks. We need to tell the people what they need to be doing so there won’t be much lag time to get water,” Mills said.

An even more important reason for the meeting, Mills said, was that “it is vital that the people in Fish Springs and Little Milligan understand this is not our water project. This is the project of Fish Springs and Little Milligan. We need to get people involved. ... I would like to see the people take some ownership.”

He said it will be easier for the people to solve problems if they are in the community rather than having “to drive 25 miles down here.”

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