Elected officials and business leaders from across Carter County had the opportunity last week to learn more about the proposed effort to bring a sewer system to the Roan Mountain community. Last Wednesday’s meeting, which was co-sponsored by Carter County Tomorrow, provided local leaders with the opportunity to ask questions about the project and its anticipated impact on the Roan Mountain economy.
Carter County Tomorrow President and CEO Tom Anderson began the meeting by stating that the engineering firm of Tysinger, Hampton and Partners of Johnson City was hired last year to conduct a feasibility study on developing a sewer system in Roan Mountain. Anderson said TH&P has been working on the study for well over a year. In that time, he noted the firm has gathered a great deal of information and data regarding the implementation and estimated cost of making the project a reality.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey has been an advocate of bringing a sewer system to Roan Mountain since first taking office in September of 2010. “Most of us in this room recognize there’s a need for this type of project and that there has been a need for a sewer system in Roan Mountain for quite some time,” said Humphrey. “We would like to be proactive in our stance by putting together a project that will serve the needs of the people in the community.”
Humphrey added he believes a sewer system is a vital part of fostering economic development for Roan Mountain and the eastern part of Carter County.
Humphrey also stated that most government ventures to improve or to develop infrastructure in a community can take several years to move from the idea phase to the drawing board to actual implementation. “Projects like this do not happen overnight,” the mayor said. “As we’ve seen with this, we’re almost two years in this project. We did speak with the community more than a year ago to gather their input and to discuss the options that were outlined by Tysinger, Hampton and Partners.”
The TH&P feasibility study—which was conducted at a cost of approximately $10,000—was paid for by funding through Mountain Electric Cooperative. As part of their report, the engineering firm reviewed several different types of sewer system, including the use of a centralized sewer system and the construction of a wastewater treatment facility.
After officials learned that the estimated cost of a centralized sewer system would carry a price tag of approximately $20 million, the concept was scrapped since the economics make it “cost-prohibitive.”
The second potential model—a wastewater treatment facility—was also shelved when representatives from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation stated they were adamantly opposed to the project due to environmental concerns.
In late 2011, Anderson appeared before the Carter County Commission’s Utility Committee and advised them that TDEC officials refused to sign-off on the plan by citing fears that a wastewater treatment plant would lead to increased levels of fecal coliforms in the pristine waters of the Doe River.
Gary Tysinger and Jill Workman of Tysinger, Hampton and Partners were also invited to attend last Wednesday’s meeting in Roan Mountain. Tysinger reiterated TDEC’s resistance to any plan leading to higher levels of pollution in the Doe River. He commented TDEC’s stance has been one of the greatest challenges they have faced in creating a workable scenario for the sewer project. He noted those restrictions eventually led them to the development of the sewer system’s current model.
The final concept still under consideration—a decentralized sewer system—has shown greater promise, both from a political and an economic standpoint.
The initial phases of the Roan Mountain sewer project would eventually entail approximately 100 of the largest commercial customers, including Cloudland Elementary and High School.
Tysinger also commented the presence of the Northeast Correctional Annex, Roan Mountain State Park, Cloudland Elementary and High School and a large nursing home complex make the case for developing a sewer system even stronger. “With all of those entities, you also have to consider the economic impact of tourism on the community. With the development of a sewer system in Roan Mountain, you have the potential for growing the tourism industry and the economy, in general,” he said.
Workman, who is responsible for water treatment projects for TH&P, noted the first phase of the Roan Mountain Sewer System would include 40 customers in the downtown area. She explained approximately 30 customers would be commercial businesses, while the remaining ten would be made up of residential customers. “Those two categories of flow contributors would be the initial customers for the first phase of development. 97 percent of that flow would be commercial and the remaining three percent would be residential,” Workman said.
Workman said the feasibility study and project design used the anticipated customer base for phase one to create a rate structure that offers the most affordable construction costs. Using the rate structure, the total amount of developing the project is anticipated between $1.3 million and $1.7 million.
In addition to its affordability, project advocates also believe the current plan will allow for the potential of future growth and expansion to more customers in the Roan Mountain community. Local officials point to the fact that the current lack of a sewer system in Roan Mountain is an impediment to attracting tourism-based businesses, including a hotel and restaurants. They have stated they are hopeful a sewer system would make the area more attractive for retail development over the next ten to twenty years.
Over the last year, local officials have spoken with representatives from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Community Development Block grant program through the Office of Housing and Urban Development and the office of Rural Development about the proposed sewer project. Anderson said he has been advised there are several potential grant sources to fund the concept. He also noted the grant money would save customers from having to pay an additional $80 to $100 per month on their water bills.
Using the example of the soon-to-be-completed Fish Springs/Little Milligan Water System, Tysinger also commented that “grassroots support in the community has led that project’s success. The Fish Springs and Little Milligan communities wanted water and they were willing to work through the different bureaucratic steps to make it happen.”
Tysinger added that he believes a similar grassroots effort in the Roan Mountain community will have to occur in order to bring the sewer system to reality. “With a grassroots effort, your project is going to be visible in the community. It also means you’re going to have the support of the citizens because they can see the benefits of this type of project,” Tysinger said.