By Max Hrenda
In October of 2002, then-Johnson County Mayor Dick Grayson applied for federal assistance to install and extend water utility lines in the Sutherland community in Shady Valley.
Eleven years and one mayor later, that community’s wait has come to an end.
On Friday, some of Tennessee’s lawmakers and Johnson County’s local leaders gathered at the Sutherland Community Church in Shady Valley to celebrate the commencement of the Sutherland Community Water Project, one of the state’s longer running utility projects.
Current Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter began the ceremony by thanking the officials in attendance not only for attending the event, but for their work in securing the project.
“I really appreciate, from the bottom of my heart, you all coming out today to acknowledge this,” Potter said.
At the project’s conclusion, 43 homes in Shady Valley will have access to fully functional water lines. The project will extend water lines from state Route 133, adjacent Johnson County roads, and South Shady Street in nearby Damascus, Va., and received assistance from nearly every conceivable level of government – Johnson County, the Washington County (Va.) Service Authority, the state of Tennessee, the commonwealth of Virginia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I guess it’s true,” Potter said. “When government works together, at its best, (it is) for a reason like this. I can’t thank you enough for these people and getting water up here.”
That sentiment was echoed by state Rep. Timothy Hill, who represents Johnson, Carter, and parts of Sullivan counties in the state Legislature.
“I’m excited to see the determination from one mayor to the next, from a Congressman and a lieutenant governor, and to be able to see a good project finally get finished,” Hill said. “It just shows a real sense of community.”
In addition to community, Ramsey added that ensuring citizens have access to serviceable utilities was one of the government’s primary duties.
“The one thing (government) should be involved in is making sure we have good roads, good highways, good water, good sewers, and good utilities,” Ramsey said. “There’s nothing more important than something like this, bringing the water to Sutherland. Hallelujah, we finally closed the book on this one.”
Also on hand was U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, who agreed with Ramsey’s notion of government’s role in public service.
“One of the most important things we can do for the people we serve is public service – to bring basic utilities to people,” Roe said. “But all the credit goes, to me, to these local officials who are here, not to us. (These) guys who were just staying with it and not taking no for an answer. Finally, the people in this community get that.”
Although he retired from the mayor’s seat in 2010, Grayson was invited to participate in Friday’s celebration. While the project’s first loan approval came during his term, Grayson still credited his predecessor with starting the initiative.
“Prior to my election … former County Executive Curtis Sluder had applied for a grant for this water project,” Grayson said. “He told me, ‘If you apply again as soon as you get in office, I think you can be approved.’ In short order, we were approved, and we were approved for about $1/2 million.”
According to Grayson, throughout his tenure as Johnson County mayor – from 2002 to 2010 – the Sutherland community water project saw its share of peaks and valleys.
“We were in pretty good shape until the economy kind of went south,” Grayson said. “We were about $275,000 over budget when it did the first time.”
Despite financial shortcomings, Grayson said the Sutherland community water project remained a priority, even more so than some of the county’s other utility districts.
“There were a lot of utility districts that were in my office that were very angry,” Grayson said. “But this was the worst need for water anywhere in Johnson County. As long as I was in office, I felt like the need was still there, and I felt like we needed to carry on.”
Before his retirement in 2010, Grayson said he made it a point to introduce the project to Potter, his successor. Grayson concluded the event by thanking Potter for his persistence in pursuing the project.
“I had Mayor Potter here before he was elected,” Grayson said. “I said, ‘These folks expect it, and I know you’ll carry through.’ And you did. I commend you.”