The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 5, 2013

County water board opts for tunneling under river for Decatur water

By Karen Middleton

— The Limestone County Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors in a 4-to-1 decision Thursday voted to tunnel under the Tennessee River and purchase up to 20 million gallons of water a day from Decatur.

Authority Manager Byron Cook said it would be at least six to nine months before pipeline construction could begin.

“It has to go out for bids — the plans are ready,” said Cook. “There’s only about a half-dozen companies in the country who do this kind of work.”

New board member Ty Smith cast the lone dissenting vote. Smith continued to question the financial wisdom of the authority taking this option to keep up with the growth demands in Southeast Limestone County.

Meanwhile, Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks presented a proposal of $1.15 per 1,000 gallons at a demand of 5 million gallons a day to the authority to prove “we’re still players at the table” when it comes to providing water to the county.

Marks was present at Thursday’s special called meeting, but board chairman Jim Moffatt said he had told the mayor that he could not make his presentation before the vote. Marks immediately approached the board table with the city proposal upon adjournment. Moffatt said the authority anticipates the city being a major supplier of water to the northern part of the county.

Before the vote, Smith expressed his concern that the authority’s debt would increase by some $20 million from the present $70 million debt. He said he didn’t know until recent days that the authority didn’t have the money in hand for the Decatur project. He questioned the rush in going with the Decatur option when Athens was offering enough water to see Limestone through the next 10 years.

Moffatt once more alluded to the possibility of a large new industry coming in that would use 2.7 million gallons of water a day and if the county was prepared to provide it, the added demand would put the authority at the top of its production capabilities.

This is not counting the water demands resulting from development associated with the city of Huntsville’s building of the “Holiday Road” from I-565 to Browns Ferry Road through annexed properties.

The authority has said it would spend $17 million on the 36-inch pipeline under the Tennessee River, plus a pumping station on the Limestone side. Also, the authority will spend another $2.5 million under the contract to share equally in the cost with Decatur of building a transmission line to run from the Decatur Water Treatment plant to the river pipeline. 

Moffatt said he would provide the press with the Decatur contract by this afternoon to show specifically what the contract covers.

The Athens mayor said that his price offer is in relation to extending the county’s expiring contract with the city in which the authority can purchase up to 4 million gallons of water per day at $1.56 per 1,000 gallons.

“The city has already approved $4 million to upgrade its water treatment plant to 14.5 million gallons a day,” said Marks. “Wherever you want to pull the water from us, it’s going to be $1.15, and if that don’t butt heads with Decatur, then grits ain’t groceries — wherever you want to take it.

“Me, (Utilities General Manager) Gary Scroggins, and (Water and Wastewater Manager) John Stockton have been working hard for the last two weeks to come up with this. We’ll be a player at the table wherever you want to take it.”

“This is the best option for our northern points,” said Moffatt. “We’ve got a contract extension ready for approval.”

“We will immediately begin to work with you at your direction,” said Marks.

Moffatt said the measure would be put on the Sept. 26 regular meeting agenda.