Polk/Columbus water could connect soon

Published 5:59 pm Friday, September 23, 2011

Polk County has offered to run a water line from Mill Spring to connect with Columbus, a move that could have far-reaching results for the county and its towns.

Polk County, Columbus, Saluda and Tryon officials met Thursday, Sept. 22 and discussed the possibility.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre said Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson approached the town a couple of months ago with the idea, but the town wasn’t in a position to consider the option because it was in the middle of working out a development agreement with Foster Creek that also involved a water line.

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McIntyre said the town was trying to work it out for Foster Creek to run a water line up Hwy. 108 to the development, estimated at approximately $465,000. Columbus approved the development agreement, but Foster Creek is not required to install a water line until the 175th dwelling is in place, which could take several years.

“They are estimating 18 months to two years before they shuffle dirt out there,” said McIntyre. “Once the process starts, depending on the economy, it may be several years before you get that 175th dwelling.”

Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson said running a water line connecting Mill Spring and Columbus has been discussed in this county many times.

“I’ve lost many nights’ sleep worrying about having to shut down the middle school,” said Whitson. “I think the value of a line there and back up to the schools and our new human resources facility is very, very important.”

Whitson said he thinks five to six years is too long to wait. He also said the line needs a valve so water can flow either way.

“I think it’s beneficial for Columbus and the county to have that backup,” Whitson said. “The other value is it connects all the towns and the county. At a later point it would be possible for the county to sell water to Saluda.”

Whitson also mentioned how long Polk County has thought about running water lines throughout the county.

“I have a file on my desk from 1967 about putting water lines all through the county,” he said.

Polk County asked Columbus to consider the connection and to consider taking over monitoring the county’s well and sewer system located at the middle school site.

The water line would be approximately two miles and would connect the middle school and high school. The tie-in would mean that Polk County is also connected to the water systems of Columbus, Saluda and Tryon, which were connected last year through work funded by a grant.

Tryon and Columbus’ systems have been connected for years and a water line was installed last year along Howard Gap Road, which connected Saluda to Tryon.

“The beauty is if any one of us went down we’d have water,” said Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples.

Benefits to Polk County

A line connecting the county’s Mill Spring water system with Columbus water would give Polk County an extra source of water to supplement the county’s current well system, which already serves the middle school, the recreation park, nearby homes and the current vacant Woodland Mills site. That extra water could be especially useful because a new building is almost complete in Mill Spring to house the Polk County Department of Social Services (DSS).

Details of prices would have to be worked out for the county using Columbus’ water or Columbus using the county’s water, but Whitson said the county will sell water to Columbus for whatever Columbus will sell it for to the county.

The long-term benefit to the county is the new line would serve as a main water line along Hwy. 108, with the county able to pick up any customers interested in having county water. Whitson said he believes the line would add at least two customers along Hwy. 108 for Polk.

The line could solve a problem for Midway Baptist Church as well, which has approached Columbus in the past asking for town water because of issues with lack of water there.

The county currently owns a water line through Green Creek that connects the Broad River Water Authority and Inman Campobello Water District, along with extensions and customers. The county in the future plans to connect the Green Creek line to Mill Spring and eventually to Lake Adger, where a water plant will be constructed.

Once the county connects Mill Spring with Green Creek, Polk and the towns would be connected in a regional system that would reach from Asheville to Spartanburg, S.C.

“One big advantage is, if we get that line and one in Green Creek look at where you’re tied to,” said Polk County Commissioner Ted Owens. “We would already have our regional system put together.”

Benefits to Columbus

Along with an additional back-up water supply, Columbus could see financial benefits in connecting to the county’s water system.

Revenues could be made from selling water and monitoring the county’s water and sewer system in Mill Spring.

In addition, Columbus could gain financially if Foster Creek did not have to run its own main line. In the town’s development agreement with Foster Creek, approved on Sept. 15, Columbus was going to allow

Foster Creek to collect tap fees for the first 100 dwellings in return for running the line. If Polk runs the water line, Foster Creek will only have to connect to that line and Columbus could collect the tap fees for all of the home sites.

Another major benefit to Columbus would be that the Hwy. 108 line would essentially create a loop in the town’s water system on that side of town. Currently when a break occurs, businesses, residents and sometimes the school has to be without water in order to fix a break. With a new line, the town could shut off one line while still supplying water through the other line.

Columbus agreed to put discussing the tie in on its next agenda, which will be Oct. 21. Columbus Town Manager Jonathan Kanipe and Whitson agreed to get together to work out some details in the meantime.

The next joint meeting is scheduled for Dec. 6 at Columbus Town Hall at 7 p.m.