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Editorial: A water line to Clinch School is a better solution

Editorial Board • Dec 20, 2019 at 10:00 PM

In partnership with states and local development districts, the Appalachian Regional Commission supported 522 projects totaling $125 million in fiscal year 2018. These initiatives were matched by $189 million and are attracting an additional $1.5 billion in leveraged private investment, creating or retaining more than 26,600 jobs.

ARC’s purpose as a federal-state partnership funded annually by Congress is to invest in building community capacity and strengthen economic growth. Fitting that definition perfectly would be an extension of a water line six miles from the Sneedville Water Utility to the Clinch Valley community, including Clinch School. The cost would be about $1 million per mile.

An effort to do so several years ago lost traction “because there was no interest on the part of the ARC in helping to fund it,” said Hawkins County Board of Education member Bob Larkins. That failure has left the school facing as much as $412,000 for a new well water filtration system.

Clinch School is only about 10 years old, but district energy specialist Brandon Williams informed the board earlier this school year that the original filtration system has become unreliable.

“We’ve had issues with that system for some time now,” Williams said. “A lot of issues revolve around the control system that operates that well. It’s a complicated piece of machinery — glitches pretty regularly. We have taken steps to reduce how often that happens, but it does still happen on a pretty regular basis.”

The BOE has two options to upgrade the well. One would last 30 years and cost an estimated $412,000 installed. The other would last about eight to 12 years and cost an estimated $275,000. The difference is the cost of equipment. The new system would have two separate filtration tanks so that if one goes down, the backup automatically switches on.

Before a district with a tight budget in a rural area spends that kind of money, Larkins suggested another try at a permanent solution of being served by a public utility.

“Sneedville was interested in providing water to us, and I think the estimate at the time was around $6 million to get a line out there to the school,” Larkins said. “But we’re talking about at least a half million dollars today for a well system.”

BOE Chairman Chris Christian suggested there may be time to get a water line to the school to benefit the entire community.

“Any time that we are going to throw a lot of money at something, if we can get a long-term permanent fix we’re better off in the long run,” Christian said. “What would be the harm in asking?”

None at all that we can see, and if the ARC is committed to its purpose, it should respond favorably.

“That school is going to be there probably forever, and rather than talk about eight to 10 years and do it again, 20 years and do it again, I would like to see it fixed,” Larkins said. “Bring clean public water out there to the community and our school system, and let’s get off the well.”

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