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Infrastructure a growing concern for town

By Meg Dickens

While citizens everywhere depend on local water departments to take care of the public’s needs, a growing number of projects, employee loss, and general complaints, Mountain City Water and Sewer Department has been making its presence visible at recent city council meetings.

According to concerned citizens, some of the issues have been causing property damage for more than a decade, while areas, including Dry Run and Cold Springs, need repairs, with citizens demanding a more permanent solution.
It did not take long for a big problem to raise its ugly head during this month’s council meeting. Water Collection and Distribution Superintendent Chris Hook pointed out that with new projects underway, the department does not have enough manpower.

Hook emphasized that one such project is an exploratory sewer check using CCTV. More data made it clear that the CCTV project should be a priority. Data from this project will affect future grants, and waiting until the summer will reduce rising water, which would make detecting issues more difficult.

According to Hook, the state does not want to upgrade the wastewater plant anymore because of current issues. The CCTV exploration will help determine the best approach. He explained, “72 percent of the water produced in December was unfiltered rainwater.”

Sadly water department issues and the need for more workers is only a part of the problem. City Recorder Sheila Shaw pointed out the current level of spending is not fair to other departments in the city that will expect the same financial support, which they cannot provide. Shaw requested to hold off on replacing pipes near Canter Road, costing approximately $61,000 for plastic replacements or $82,000 for duct iron. The latter is more expensive but costs less in repairs.

“I would ask that we postpone this,” said Shaw. “We are spending hand over fist in the water department right now. We are spending about 1.7 million dollars of our money on projects that we’ve got going on, and that’s not going to look good come audit time. I’m just looking out for the town.”

Shaw’s sentiments are timely as headhunters are still recruiting sewer workers. Another employee has reportedly resigned for a higher paying position elsewhere between the January and February meetings. That makes two known cases of “headhunting” and multiple reports of offers. The town is in need of more manpower to handle public projects and is looking for solutions and new employees. The Mountain City Council meets the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome.