All towns on board

Published 10:45 pm Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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Towns to pay for engineer to inspect water interconnect

POLK COUNTY—Polk County’s towns should soon find out if the water interconnect can be repaired or if it is a total loss. 

The City of Saluda was the first to agree to have Withers-Ravenel Engineers inspect the water line to see what repairs can be made to make the system work. 

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Tryon approved the agreement last Tuesday night and Columbus approved the agreement last Thursday night. 

Columbus Town Manager Tim Barth said several years ago the three towns decided to build a system so the communities could share water. 

“When that project was done the engineering wasn’t quite what it should have been,” Barth said. “It never worked as it originally was intended to work.” 

Columbus, Saluda and Tryon eventually sued the engineer, Joel Wood and have funding available from winning the lawsuit. The project was to run a water line along Howard Gap Road from Tryon to Saluda and put a reverse on a connection between Columbus and Tryon. The Columbus to Tryon connection works, but the Saluda and Tryon connection does not. Also, heavy rains that damaged Howard Gap Road also caused further issues with the system. 

Barth said the Howard Gap damage is part of what the engineers will look at as well as looking at the entire system to see what needs to be done and the costs to make it work. 

“It’s a dysfunctional system,” said Columbus Councilman Robert Williamson last week. “We are trying to find out what it’s worth and what it’s going to cost to fix it. Or go back to the state. We continue to feed this dead horse that we continue to pay on our bills every month.” 

The towns got a state grant to install the connection years ago but also had to take out a loan to fund the rest. Each customer in each town pays a line fee every month. In Columbus, the monthly fee to pay back the loan is $3.40, for example. 

The towns received $170,000 from the lawsuit and will use those funds to pay for the engineering study, which is $144,000. 

Columbus also last week approved an amendment to the inter-local agreement regarding the water interconnect. The original agreement included a section where Saluda and Tryon would agree to pay Columbus 25 cents per 1,000 gallons as a result of expanding the interconnection. The amendment was approved to make the language more specific that the payment will only come from taps associated with the interconnect line and only in the unincorporated areas, not every tap Tryon and Saluda makes. 

Williamson thanked Saluda Manager Jonathan Cannon for all his work on the water interconnect. 

“We’ve tried to move forward,” Williamson said. “We’ve agreed to search for an engineer. So, this is progress.”