Surgoinsville celebrated its sewer system groundbreaking Tuesday with Congressman Phil Roe, fourth from right, State Rep. Mike Harrison to his right, as well as Mayor Johnny Greer and director of schools Steve Starnes. (photo by Jeff Bobo)
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SURGOINSVILLE — It's been seven years coming, but on Tuesday Surgoinsville leaders, with the help of Congressman Phil Roe and several other dignitaries, officially broke ground on the new Surgoinsville Sewer System.
The town has had to overcome many obstacles to get to this point, and Mayor Johnny Greer acknowledges that to this day not everyone in town is in favor of the project.
But, as Roe told Greer just prior to Tuesday's ceremony, "It's the right thing to do."
"It's always hard to invest money in things that people can't see," Roe said during Tuesday's ceremony held on the Surgoinsville middle and elementary school campuses. "They can see roads and other things. My hat's off to this community. When (Greer) came over to the office I said I'll do anything I can to help you because I know how expensive these are, and I know how hard they are to do. And you're asking people to pay another bill."
Roe added, "But I think from a business standpoint, and business development here, it's a home run. And for the school system, it was absolutely essential to this school."
Greer noted that the history of the sewer project reminded him of a lesson his pastor told recently — that in order for a tree to spout leaves, it first must be stressed.
"We've been stressed," Greer said. "We've got the stress going."
The first obstacle was acquiring funding. Initially the town had $3.5 million in grants and loans, but after the low construction bid came in close to $5 million earlier this year, more money was needed. Monday night the Board of Mayor and Alderman approved a new $953,000 federal loan to finish the project.
The town also had to get the school system's approval for the project, as well as a $200,000 contribution.
The new sewer system will replace the worn out sewage treatment plant at Surgoinsville's elementary and middle school which would have cost an estimated $1 million to replace.
Another obstacle was developing a mathematical equation for the number of customers to be hooked up in the first phase of construction, multiplied by a sewer rate, that would make the system financially self sufficient and pay the debt.
That plan changed several times over the years, but the final numbers included approximately 300 customers will be hooked to the system in the first phase of construction, with a user rate of $7.20 per 1000 gallon usage rate and a minimum monthly bill of $20.
"I really worried about the extra cost to our citizens and the fact that they're going to be paying another bill," Greer said. "Not everybody is happy about it, but most people are."
Possibly the most frustrating task was acquiring all the necessary environmental permits. That was the last obstacle to overcome that could have sunk the whole project — and it was still up in the air well into the spring months of this year.
Greer credited State Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, with helping get the environmental permits approved in Nashville. Harrison joined the group that participated in Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony.
"I'd like to commend you for sticking with this," Harrison told Surgoinsville leaders during Tuesday's ceremony. "We've had several conversations and you've run into a lot of roadblocks and snags along the way. We've been able to help with environment conservation (permits), and these things aren't easy."
Harrison added, "I'm just thankful that we've got a congressman that the mayor could go to who would go to battle to try to bring funds back into our communities to try to make the quality of life better. That's what it's all about."
Construction started last month, with two crews starting at both ends of the project and working toward the middle.
A crew that started at the schools has worked its way east, and on Tuesday was downtown on Main Street installing the trunk line in front of the Surgoinsville Drug Store building.
The crew that started at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park, where the Surgoinsville trunk line connects to the Church Hill sewer system for treatment, has made it to Main Street, and rounded the corner, and is now working its way west.
Once the trunk line between the schools and Phipps Bend is completed, the schools will be hooked to the system as the first priority.
After the schools are online, which is expected to be sometime in September, the remaining 300 customers will be connected to the system. The overall project is expected to take a year.
"I'm real thankful that we're at this point," Greer said. "We've still got a ways to go. There's a lot of work to be done yet. I'm just asking the town and the community to stand behind us on this, and it will be done before you know it, and we'll have sewer service and take care of some of our public health issues that we have, like most places do that don't have a public sewer system."