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Grants sought to resolve pollution of water wells

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Federal grants totaling $650,000 are sought by the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities to pay for the extension of water service to several homes southeast of Henry Horton State Park where drinking water wells are polluted.

Marshall County Commissioner Rocky Bowden, chairman of the MCBPU, announced to his fellow commissioners on Monday night that the utility is filing the applications with the help of Lisa Cross, a community development specialist with the South Central Tennessee Community Development District.

If the grants are awarded, a water pipeline would be built along Warner Road and Hopkins Bridge and Batten Road where up to 32 homes near Clay Hill and the Duck River would have the opportunity to tap into the county-owned water system, Bowden said.

Extending water service to that area is to reach several homes where drinking water wells were polluted, allegedly by bacteria in connection with a hog farm operated by Charles Edward "Charlie" Haskins, 62, of 1066 Haskins Chapel Road in Bedford County. He was indicted eight months ago by the Marshall County Grand Jury on charges that he allegedly contaminated the water supply for several Marshall County homes by dumping excessive amounts of waste from his hog production facilities.

Haskins is represented by Ray Fraley, a Fayetteville-based defense attorney who says, "My client maintains his innocence; that he's not responsible for contamination of any of the wells."

Representatives of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation presented their findings to District Attorney Chuck Crawford who's said the case brought against Haskins "is very unusual." He's sought assistance from TDEC's counsel to deal with the criminal case.

That case is still open in Marshall County Circuit Court and Bowden was emphatic Monday night when he acknowledged that Haskins "is being prosecuted, but not on our behalf."

"We're in the process of trying to obtain an emergency grant to aid people at the Clay Hill Community..." Bowden told commissioners during their monthly meeting. "If we're able to do this, it will be 100 percent funded."

Two grants are sought.

* One is for $500,000, the emergency grant of money that Bowden said could come from a Community Development Block Grant. CDBG money usually originates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD money is funneled through state agencies such as the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. In this state, applications are drafted by consultants like Cross from development district offices.

* Another is for $160,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's office of Rural Development, an agency that has helped MCBPU in recent years.

"Both would be for funds that would not have to be repaid," Bowden said.

"The key to it is that it (the water line) must stop at the last house that was affected by the spill," Bowden explained after the commissioners' monthly meeting. "For us to get the grant, we have to take the shortest route. All the people who the line will affect have been sent a form" to fill out and state their interest in obtaining water service.

The water pipeline project would result in work for private contractors who dig pipe trenches, lay pipe and perform related work, the commissioner said.

"More than likely," Bowden said, "we would bid that job. It would be something we could do" with utility employees and equipment, but contractors will probably be hired.

Just four months ago, Bowden said he held faint hope that the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities could help resolve the very unusual situation arising from what the state prosecutor alleged is caused by "hundreds of thousands of gallons" of hog manure that polluted water wells.

The idea was presented to the MCBPU on Dec. 15 when the water utility's superintendent, Tommy Whaley, reported that he'd received inquiries on what could be done to resolve the problem.

Bowden saw it as "a possibility," and reported the board told Whaley to investigate funding options so it won't cost the ratepayers of the county-owned utility.

The MCBPU meets next at 9 a.m. April 20.