By Karen Middleton
Today, when the Limestone County Water and Sewer Authority meets at 3:30 p.m. it is scheduled to vote on building a $10 million pipeline under the Tennessee River to meet growth needs.
Limestone has said it needs 10-million gallons of water a day to meet growth needs in the southern and eastern parts of the county. The authority already purchases 1.5 million gallons a day from Decatur and the Decatur City Council has approved the sale of the additional water once the 36-inch wide, 8,700-foot long pipeline is constructed.
Athens Water and Wastewater Department Manager John Stockton said that as late as Tuesday he and other city officials met with water authority officials to assure them Athens could meet all of their water needs, at least for the next 15 years without the necessity of going out of county.
Decatur, which has a 68-million-gallon-a-day capacity plant and is largely free from debt service, can offer Limestone water at a much lower rate than Athens. But some officials question if the cheaper water justifies the $10-to-$11-million expenditure for the pipeline plus an estimated $4 million for a pumping station.
Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said he, Stockton and Utilities General Manager Gary Scroggins have met unofficially at least three times with water authority Manager Byron Cook and geographic information systems engineer Brent Brown to discuss the two entities working together.
According to Marks, the Tuesday meeting included Marks, Stockton, Scroggins, Cook, Brown and authority contract engineer Alton Hethcote.
“For the first time since I’ve been associated with this project I feel we had a really productive discussion,” said Marks. “We want to partner with (the authority) as much as we can. We can’t compete with Decatur, we will never be able to pump at the same cost, but it seems like we should be able to work together.”
Stockton said that Athens Water has a contract to sell 4 million gallons a day to the authority.
“The maximum they take is 1.5 million gallons a day,” said Stockton. “However, they are limited to be able to hydraulically move more to their sites because of their system and the size of their pipes. It could be several years before they need 10 million gallons.”
Stockton said he had been Water Department manager for 21 years and during that time the city upgrades and increases its treatment capacity every “four or five years.” He said by the time the county needs 10 million gallons, the Athens system could supply it.
Both Stockton and Marks say that for the foreseeable future, Athens can deliver what the county needs.
Authority Chairman Jim Moffatt, a local attorney, was in court all day Wednesday and couldn’t be reached. However, board member Johnny Hatchett said the county system is now at 90-percent capacity and the authority is under the gun to find more water.
“If one industry showed up and demanded a whole lot of water, we wouldn’t be in a position to serve them and we don’t want to be in that position.”
Hatchett said the authority’s Tuesday morning work session was dominated by discussions of the upcoming vote.
“We definitely want Athens’ input,” said Hatchett. We’ve talked to both parties (Decatur and Athens) in the past and we have not come up with an equitable solution.”