The Union Ridge community outside Wartrace still has no direct access to a clean water supply. County Commissioner Don Gallagher explained at Tuesday’s financial management committee meeting that the town has gone through some hurdles, but he remains optimistic for the new bids which will open March 10.
The Union Ridge community outside Wartrace still has no direct access to a clean water supply.
County Commissioner Don Gallagher explained at Tuesday’s financial management committee meeting that the town has gone through some hurdles, but he remains optimistic for the new bids which will open March 10.
“This is our last-ditch effort,” said Gallagher. “It has been a priority for me for a while to get water up to Union Ridge. And it’s just so difficult because in a rural area it’s hard to have the density to qualify for grants.”
The community has around 40 families. Most of their water is contaminated, while often, during major droughts like in the one in 1987, there’s no water at all, Gallagher explained. For decades, families have been buying water from Wartrace and trekking mobile water tanks up to the ridge.
Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham added at Tuesday’s meeting, “Their groundwater is not correct. And they have times where they don’t even have water; it dries up. It really shouldn’t be like that in today’s world.”
Since each resident has their own well, each water source is contaminated with something different, according to Wartrace Mayor Cindy Drake. She recalls seeing sulfur listed as a “contaminate” on several of the reports.
In 2019, Wartrace and Bedford entered into agreement to get water to Union Ridge. The County applied for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to build a 100,000 gallon storage tank. The grant was approved in September 2020, and Wartrace received $625,000 for the construction of the waterline, while Bedford received $404,000 for water storage, according to Gallagher.
In addition to building the water tank, the town, along with Wartrace engineer Robert Stegal, designed a plan to place a waterline from Red Hill Road to Lazy Branch up to Union Ridge. The construction was open for bid in November.
However, the lowest bid for the waterline was over $850,000, while the lowest bid for the tank was $788,000. The bids were over the grant allocation by over $200,000. Even though Wartrace had some $200,000 in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, they were still short by $67,800, Gallagher said.
“Those bids were higher than expected primarily because of the increase in cost of steel.” Also, money from the TDEC’s Infrastructure Investment plan could not be used for water system expansion—it could only be used to rehabilitate existing waterlines.
Therefore, it’s up to the County to explore ways to fund this project using ARP funds—even if that delays construction, Gallagher said.
“It’s really frustrating to think the state got something like $3.75 billion for water infrastructure projects. A billion of that was allocated in a granting project to do waterline projects. And here these people are desperate for water, and they don’t have access.”
Graham said, “They’re so close to getting water, and they’ve never been able to get it. If we let this opportunity pass, I don’t know how there would be a path to achieve this going forward.”
Gallagher explained they’ve redesigned the water tank down to 50,000 gallons and elevated it, which should help decrease the cost. They have no redesign for the waterline extension. Some 300 customers will be served, according to Gallagher.
The new bid will be opened March 10. Gallagher said the Town of Wartrace is hoping the bids will become more competitive since there are more companies that can construct smaller, elevated tanks versus large, ground-level ones (and which use much more steel as well.)
Once bids are in, they hope to explore options then present those before the finance committee and Board of Commissioners in April.
If plans for the tank do not go through, Gallagher said they may have to resort to a pumping station instead of a tank. Though much more cost-effective at$400,000, it’s not the best solution to serve the ridge area, he advised.
“Hopefully when the bids come in, we’ll be in good shape,” Gallagher said. “I’m really excited for the possibility of getting water up in that area because I know there’s been a need for a long time.”
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