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Fixing water issues the ‘proper’ way

Posted on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 at 8:05 am


The Wartrace Board of Mayor and Aldermen seems to be working out some of it kinks—or at least that’s what they hope to do at the start of the year.

As discussed during their BOMA work study and regular meetings on Nov. 16 and Nov. 20, they hope to continue having productive conversations, especially pertaining to their water issues.

“That’s what we need to do for at least the first six months of 2024, is do nothing but get our heads together about water,” said Alderman Joe McCurry.

Much of their hope lies in their new water manager, Jeremy Garrett, who briefly laid out some of the town’s main water issues, laying out a new—or rather proper—method for fixing the water issues.

“Issues is a bit of an understatement,” said Garrett during the meeting.

“I would like to be here. I know that I can drive change and start to help to change things in regards to public perception,” said Garrett.

Those living in Wartrace have been experiencing several days of water main breaks and no water for hours on end on Thursday, Nov. 16. Commenting on the Wartrace Town Hall Facebook page, residents reported water loss on Cortner Road, while Bugscuffle Road was “shooting gallons of water,” one resident wrote.

The back-up pressure got so bad that leaks on Huffman and Barton Drive in Normandy were also reported.

“Unfortunately, whoever made the decision to not spend money on the appropriate piping in the ground—regular PVC was put in the ground. It’s much, much weaker and we’re handling pressures that are exceeding the limits of that,” explained Garrett.

A lot of the pipes are around hard rock, which when the CSX train that thunders through Wartrace causes the ground to vibrates, those pipes are bound to crack or leak.

“What they did is they dug just enough on to the rock and the first or second main break they had, it was sitting right on top of the rock and that was jack-hammered half the day because a little bit of a shift pushed that rock up,” he explained.

Garrett’s solution is to pack sand around the pipes—a common practice—to give them “swim-ability.”

“It’s the proper way. It’s not a new way. I’m not coming up with anything new,” said Garrett.

“It’s new to us,” said McCurry.

Alderman Ben Cataldo asked, “So we don’t have a million patches, how should we go about getting rid of that old stuff?”

“There’s already a million different patches,” said Garrett. “Where we went in, there’s already 19 spots that’s been fixed and we’re talking about line that’s only 20 years old.”

Garrett said they do have some funding coming their way that’s specifically for the wastewater system, which he said is going to be “tremendous help and save on releasing man-time hours and also reduce our use of chlorine at the wastewater plant.”

As for the water system, Garrett said grant funding “is clear as mud” regarding what specifically the money can be used for.

Commissioner Eric Maddox, who attended both meetings, also brought up a grant awarded to Wartrace by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in the amount of $637,105. This is when TDEC announced an additional $232 million in water infrastructure investments back in April as part of the American Rescue Plan fund.

According to TDEC’s website, “The Town of Wartrace will use ARP funds to modernize, improve, and strengthen water infrastructure through three drinking water projects. Projects will focus on creating and implementing a comprehensive Asset Management Plan as well as reducing water loss.”

But no one seemed to know where that money went.

“Lorie Fisher [Economic and Community Development Director for South Central Tennessee Development District] said she has absolutely no knowledge of that,” said Crystal Crowder, Town Manager/Recorder.

Talking to Maddox, she added, “Don’t feel like you have an ‘S’ on your chest. We’re reaching out to Lorie to get clarification to make sure that the information you’re providing. We’re not questioning where you’re getting it all, but ultimately, we can’t spend it even if we say ‘Eric Maddox told us all this’.”

This is one of the reasons Maddox wanted BOMA to create a task force, which would be comprised of town and county officials, citizens, water and utility board members, etc.

“I still believe that a lot of information is fragmented,” said Maddox. “I look at y’all [BOMA] and I point no fingers at all at anybody.”

Maddox said he and Commissioner Drew Hooker are there to help facilitate information. It’s up to Wartrace’s BOMA to make the final decisions.

“I personally am not looking for another group to join once a month, but I believe that there’s a necessity for this group to form a task force to at least bring all the information together—to whiteboard everything that’s out there.”

However, McCurry disagreed.

“As a governing body in this town, I don’t feel we need a task force,” he said. “So I make a motion right now that we decline on doing a task force and get ourselves together as a board of aldermen with the utility board and start meeting the first of the year.”

At the previous Wartrace BOMA work study on Nov. 16, some of the aldermen appeared open to the idea of a task force. But at last Monday’s meeting they voted ‘yes’ to not creating a task force with only Cataldo voting ‘no,’ saying he wanted to create one.

Creating a task force “is dealing with it. It’s getting information. I feel it’s important for us to get as much information from people who understand the system,” said Cataldo.

“And we can do that in ourselves. That’s what we’ve been elected for,” said McCurry.

Maybe next time

And as for Mayor Brian Ross resigning? Well, that issue seems to have been brushed over at this point.

At Monday’s meeting Ross turned in a written “game plan” to the aldermen containing — hopefully — information more substantial than empty promises.

“Thank you for your game plan,” said Alderman Stacey Roach.

“Guys, let’s keep up the momentum, please,” said Cataldo.