State and federal lawmakers announced Tuesday that Erwin Utilities has been awarded $650,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $525,000 from Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to extend its existing waterline from the Interstate 26 welcome center at Clear Branch to the edge of the park at Rocky Fork Road.
Erwin Utilities General Manager Lee Brown said the grants will be combined with nearly $194,000 in local match funding to complete the estimated $1.368 million project.
Brown said engineering and bid preparation will begin as soon as the grant contracts are complete, with hopes of putting the project out to bid by late summer or early fall of 2017. Depending on the weather, the 9- to 12-month construction of the 2.6-mile waterline extension could be complete by summer of 2018, he said.
“We’re excited. It’s a great opportunity for our community to be able to provide drinking water to around 70 more homes and to be a part of the development of the park.”
Tish Oldham, executive director of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County, said the new waterline will be a definite game-changer for the south end of county. “Any time you bring in infrastructure it opens things up development. It’s great news,” Oldham said.
In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon to announce the $650,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said the project is “a great example of federal, state and local officials working together to protect Tennessee lands and heritage.”
“This funding is essential to the economic development of Rocky Fork and the surrounding area,” Alexander said. “Rocky Fork may one day be Tennessee’s most popular state park. Rocky Fork is Upper East Tennessee’s gateway to the Appalachian Trail, which will increase the number of visitors coming to Unicoi County and bring in even more tourism dollars from around the world.”
Alexander said the state is currently working to build a road system, visitor center, ranger station, campgrounds, parking area and restroom facilities at Rocky Fork, and called construction of the new waterline “the next important step for final development” of the park.
The $525,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded for the project through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development was also announced Tuesday afternoon in a separate press release issued by state Sen. Rusty Crowe and state Rep. John Holsclaw.
Their release noted that in addition to the development of the park, “spin-off development” is expected to occur in the area just outside the park that “could include outfitters, gas stations and convenience stores, providing much-needed jobs and economic development opportunities in the southern end of Unicoi County.”
“This kind of infrastructure is very important to the well-being of our citizens and to the overall economic development of our county," Holsclaw said in the press release. “Infrastructure is a key component of job creation and this grant will be a tremendous boost for Unicoi County.”
Local funding for the project includes a $100,000 commitment to grant match funding the waterline approved by the Unicoi County Commission in January, $78,750 to be invested in the line by Erwin Utilities and $15,125 committed by the county economic development board.
“It’s a good project,” Brown said. “It’s going to bring water water to residents who need clean water drink and water for the park.”
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.