CHAVIES – A planned sewage treatment plant for Perry County was delayed after a federal agency reportedly pulled grant funds previously earmarked for the project, and now the sanitation district is without two of its longtime members.
For the past 20 years Jim Sidwell has served on Perry County’s Sanitation District 1, with the last nine as its chairman. But after the Environmental Protection Agency rescinded more than $1 million for the treatment plant and no additional funding was allocated to make up for the loss, he tendered his resignation early this month.
“We really had all of our funding in line to go ahead and break ground and start the plant at Chavies, and back in the latter part of August EPA pulled their funding, which they rescinded their congressional earmarks, so they pulled $1.154 million in grant money to the district,” Sidwell explained.
With this latest holdup and without additional funding on the horizon, Sidwell said he decided it was time to leave the board.
“I felt like we were spinning our wheels trying to get this going,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been on the board I’ve been trying to get a sewer plant downriver for Perry County to clean up the river and straight pipes, and it’s just been a struggle.”
The project at Chavies was slated to serve about 400 homes in the community along with the elementary school, and would have removed a number of straight pipes from the area that currently discharge raw sewage into local streams.
Sidwell said he couldn’t understand why an agency tasked with protecting the environment would pull funds for a project aimed at doing just that.
Davina Marraccini, public affairs specialist for the EPA, responded in an email that Congress directed EPA to return $140 million of “unobligated balances from the State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG), which includes water and wastewater infrastructure funds.”
“EPA analyzed all of the STAG monies and where possible tried to identify older funds,” Marraccini said. “After substantial analysis, EPA met the Congressional directive by universally rescinding unobligated earmarks appropriated from fiscal year 2008 and prior. Unfortunately, the funding for the wastewater treatment plant in Perry County was among the funds that have been rescinded.”
Though there is still some funds allocated from other avenues, there isn’t the total estimated $3 million needed, and it’s unclear when additional funds will be available.
Faced with a loss in funding, in September Sidwell said he attempted to gain additional money through a community development block grant (CDBG) from the county, but he said Judge-Executive Denny Noble had already planned to apply for those funds for waterline expansion in the south end of the county.
Noble, a resident of the Chavies area, said the treatment plant is a “very important” project for the county, and he will continue to work to see that it’s built, but at present there isn’t enough money for the plant considering other projects in the works, including waterline expansion and a new site for the regional animal shelter.
“I’ve worked on it since I’ve been judge,” Noble said of the plant. “I promised people I would do that, but there’s other projects going on.”
Noble said to obtain a CDBG there also has to be matching funds available, and if the EPA funds would have been available he would have moved to apply for the grant. In the meantime, he added that borrowing the money isn’t an option.
“I’m not going to go out there and borrow money and get the county in a position where they can’t get out (of debt),” he said.
But even so, he said he thinks Rep. Rogers will eventually re-allocate the funds needed to build the plant.
“I think the money will be reinstated, I don’t think we’ve lost it,” he continued. “It says we’ve lost it for now, but I think it will be reinstated through Congressman Rogers’ office.”
Something Sidwell and Noble did agree, however, on was the county’s need for more wastewater treatment, especially in the Chavies area.
“There’s lot of issues in the community of Chavies, septic systems that’s full, old pipes, straight lines,” Sidwell said, adding that the first phase of the planned treatment would have remedied many of those issues.
Noble said he viewed the EPA’s decision to rescind funds for the Chavies plant a letdown, as that section of the county is one of the worst in terms of the ground’s ability to absorb water.
“Chavies is one of the worst areas there are, because the ground won’t [percolate] down there,” he said. “You can have a septic system but it won’t perc, so it’s running out in the ditches.”
Sidwell added that this plant has been planned for several years, and ultimately he’s hopeful but unsure whether or not the project will get off the ground anytime soon.
“Just kind of heartbroken that we can get the project in Chavies shook loose and going,” he said, adding that some sort of grant or similar type of funding will eventually be needed before the plant becomes a reality, because it’s also not a project that a tax increase will fix.
“We had a lot of funding,” he said, “and maybe if the county can throw some severance tax at it, something either grant wise or some sort of funds through the county that would be a grant form or gift form, because that much money, it would be awful hard to pass it on through the taxpayers.”
In the meantime, Noble will be tasked with filling two positions on the district’s board of directors. Longtime member Lucien Trumbo’s resignation was received in the county judge’s office on Tuesday. Mr. Trumbo did not return a call seeking comment.
Noble said last week that he was planning on filling any open positions on the district’s board in the next regular fiscal court meeting set for December 20 at 10 a.m.