The City of Manchester and Coffee County formed a sewer committee to discuss expanding the city’s sewer line down U.S. Highway 41 to Interstate 24 Exit 105. The committee met for the first time Monday, Jan. 28, but an email sent the next day created doubt concerning the county’s commitment to the project.

County Commissioner Ashley Kraft sent an email to The Manchester Times and committee members Manchester Aldermen Ryan French, Mark Messick, Bob Bellamy and Coffee Commissioners Margaret Cunningham and Joey Hobbs, claiming the county is taking the matter off the table for discussion.

“It was brought to our attention this morning (Jan. 29) that the school board has decided to move forward with a STEP system and is currently accepting bids. This is no fault to anyone, as it appears to simply be a time matter for the school and its funding,” Kraft’s email read.

“With this information, the county has decided to withdraw the matter from the discussion. We wanted to make everyone aware as soon as possible so time wasn’t spent on a proposal, more research, etc. I apologize for any inconvenience,” the email continued.

Cunningham confirmed the information in a separate email and clarified that the school system was going out to bid next week.

However, the two commissioners do not have the ability to make this decision on behalf of the county.

Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell told The Manchester Times on   Jan. 30 that the full committee needs to decide on whether or not to pursue discussions on the project.

“It needs to be reviewed with the [full] commission for sure,” Cordell said, acknowledging at the time of the interview he had not yet been briefed on the issue.

That the full commission would be required to weigh in was backed up by Coffee County Director of Schools LaDonna McFall, who denied any bids were occurring. She said Kraft’s information came from the soil scientist hired by the county school system and not from the board of education. The scientist does not have the power to make the final decision for the schools; it has to be brought before the board of educations.

“Our plans are still being finalized by OLG Engineers and then will have to receive approval from the state fire marshal before we can start the bid process. I certainly don’t want to antagonize the county or the city but that is the truth,” McFall said.

The Monday committee meeting revealed the school system is putting the STEP plan on hold to see if the committee could come up with a plan for an expanded sewer line.

A STEP system, which includes a septic tank and a pump, allows gravity to move sewage to the tank through the plumbing line. Liquid waste is pumped under pressure to the public sewer system and solid waste will remain in the STEP tank where it naturally degrades and is eventually pumped out.

Such a system was discussed between the City of Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Manchester Water and Sewer Department (MWSD) Director Bryan Pennington last month. However, Pennington said the STEP system would not allow for future development in the area and would be exclusive to the school.

 

Is the deal flushed?

In past discussions, the county offered to pay for the entire project out of its rural infrastructure fund – a cost that was estimated to be $1.3 million in April 2018.

During Monday’s two-hour committee meeting between city and county officials, a deal was proposed to help pay the county back for the cost of the project.

The city would like the sewer line expanded to support the potential development in that area – both residential and commercial. To allow this, a sewer larger line may be necessary.

“Once the line is in, ideally, we’d want it to support the growth demand that will be out in that direction,” said French. “I think that will do, and this can go into various opinions, I think the largest demand will be residential.”

Both the city and county were concerned this would overburden Manchester’s water and sewer capacity, but Pennington explained this is not the case.

“In 2011, the Manchester Water and Sewer Department appropriated approximately $12 million to increase the capacity of the city’s wastewater plant from 3.4 mgd (million gallons per day) to 4.3 mgd,” he said in an email.

“Since that expansion, the city’s population has grown and we are anticipating increased growth rates over the next 10 years.”

At the Monday meeting, Pennington elaborated the issue wouldn’t be capacity; if anything, the issue would come from state restrictions on water treatment.

After hearing this, Committee Chairman French offered the county a deal: Allow Manchester to restrict access to the line so only properties annexed into city could tie onto it. In return, the city would give the county a percentage of the sales tax generated from that area for an undetermined amount of time to rebuild the county’s rural infrastructure fund.

French also asked the commissioners to discuss the possibility of opening the county’s Urban Growth Boundary so that Manchester could take control of the North Coffee area entirely.

Kraft, Hobbs and Cunningham agreed to take the deal to their commission for consideration. However, the offer was potentially taken off the table by Kraft on Tuesday with her email.

City aldermen are waiting to hear the county commission’s official statement on the matter.

 

The initial plan

The sewer expansion project has been on the county’s agenda since mid-2018. The goal was to expand the sewer line near North Coffee Elementary to handle the school’s renovation.

“Essentially we are trying to put in sewer to North Coffee Elementary,” Kraft said at Monday’s committee meeting. “North Coffee Elementary is our first and major concern.”

The discussion evolved into installing a sewer line that could support the school and the potential for two restaurants and two hotels off of Exit 105.

If the deal is still on the table, a considerable amount of work would need to be done.

“The possible sewer infrastructure expansion to Exit 105 will include certain existing line upgrades and existing sewer pump station upgrades/replacements at a minimum,” Pennington said. “Depending on the scope of the project, it could possibly require sewer plant upgrades. In the area of Exit 105 that is to be served by sewer (once it is determined exactly), there will likely be one or two sewer pump stations, gravity sewer line extensions from the pump stations to the school and businesses, and a sewer force main line extending from the new pump stations back to the existing city system.

“In addition to the sewer system upgrades, the water system in the Exit 105 area will need to be upgraded as well. I could easily foresee a new larger, taller water tank and new lines run from the newly upgraded booster station to an area to be determined. With increased development, there will be a higher demand for potable water and fire protection in the area as well,” Pennington added.

Casey Watts can be reached at cwatts@manchestertimes.com.