Water extension delays have some Juliette residents worried

Special to the TelegraphDecember 23, 2013 

uranium_monroe

In this 2011 file photo, Donna Welch talks about the shock of finding out that the water in her family’s nearly 500-ft. deep well contains high levels of uranium. The contamination caused her to switch to bottled water.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com

Hopes for getting Monroe County water this winter may be circling the drain for some Juliette residents whose well water is contaminated.

County leaders say they are pursuing a grant that could cover the 140 or so homes affected, but they probably won’t know the outcome until spring.

Contractors have been installing pipes for several months to bring county water to main roads in Juliette, where some residents have well water containing unsafe levels of radioactive uranium or radon. Digesting uranium can cause kidney dysfunction, and radon that vaporizes from contaminated water is a lung cancer risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to County Administrator Anita Cauthen and Middle Georgia Regional Commission documents, the current extensions are being funded through two sources: a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for the lower-income Old Dames Ferry Road and Christian Road areas; and $1 million of the county special purpose local option sales tax for the Taylor Road and Pea Ridge Road areas.

Cauthen said she isn’t sure how many houses are expected to receive water from these extensions.

Initially, Monroe County leaders were pursuing a Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant to cover the cost of extending water lines onto the side roads. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which handles that loan program, “redirected” the county to another federal loan that would be funneled through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, Cauthen said. The county is in the process of applying for “probably around $1 million” through that program.

Residents who live on side roads had been told that pipe would be laid to their homes about 150 days after the current installation project began in August.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” said Donna Welch, who lives on Dames Ferry Road. Her well has some of the highest contamination found, but she has been watching county water lines pass her by on the road behind her property.

“It’s been two and a half years since I’ve been able to use the water in my home,” she said. “I believe they’re trying. Whatever it takes, we really, really need the water.”

“When it was announced before, we thought we were going to get the (Rural Economic Development) loan, and it fell through,” said county Commissioner Patsy Miller, who represents the area.

“We feel confident, but I can’t say, ‘Yes, it’s going to happen,’” she said. “Some people are up in arms and believe they aren’t going to get water. I’ve tried to reassure them. ... It’s just going to be a little bit down the road.”

The current extension was slated to take six months, although rainfall this fall might delay that schedule, said Daniel Cummings, government services specialist at the regional commission.

Miller said all the Juliette extensions won’t be done at once, although Cauthen expressed hope that funding will come through in time to extend water to the side roads while contractors are still in the field.

Welch hopes the delay in funding for the side roads doesn’t cause the momentum to trickle away.

“I had just counted on it,” she said “Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome to take a shower and not have to open windows and put on fans, and to cook with the water from my tap? It’s been like camping.”

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