O'Reilly's Auto Parts under construction in Chickamauga

O'Reilly's Auto Parts, now nearing completion, is part of the recent flurry of commercial development along U.S. Highway 27 in Chickamauga. Improvements to the city's water supply will improve the health and safety of the city's 3,001 inhabitants as well as retail and industrial developments.

A willingness to allocate resources to secure specialized services, maintain a solid financial footing and commit to long-range planning is paying off for elected officials and residents of Chickamauga.

In August, the city was awarded a $544,478 federally funded Community Development Block Grant for improvements to its water system.

Last week, Chickamauga was awarded a $400,000 loan, repayable over 20 years at an interest rate of 1.89 percent, by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority's board of directors that will be used for the same project.

"The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund assists local governments with their efforts to provide safe drinking water. In addition to the public’s health and safety, these projects are critical to a community’s ability to prosper economically," said GEFA Executive Director Kevin Clark when the loan was announced.

The city council in 2015 decided to hire consultant Angela Steedley to help develop a plan for revamping the water system and to pursue grants for that plan's funding.

When complete, this infrastructure project with a price tag of about $2.6 million will stabilize the quantity and pressure of water the city-owned utility provides.

"We are trying to be proactive and modernize the city's water supply," City Manager Micheal Haney said.

Haney said the upgrades will help equalize water pressure for all customers, increase the volume of water throughout the system.

More grants — a $1.1 million GEFA loan with an interest rate of 0.89 percent and that will excuse 40 percent of the principal; a $700,000 EDA grant and a $465,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant — are under review at present.

"We should hear by the end of January," Haney said. "Our plan has been well received and, if everything continues to fall in line, work can commence sometime in the spring of 2018."

In addition to repairing what exists, he said the upgrades are critical to accommodate the residential and commercial growth that is underway in the city with a population of 3,-001.

"All in all it is costly but necessary," the manager said.

A series of unforeseeable events forced the city council's decision. A ruptured water main left some residents in the area near the city schools without water for almost 20 hours during the 2013 Christmas holidays. In the summer of 2014 the main pump at the city's primary well was destroyed by a lightning strike. Breakage of 6-inch water mains in the summer of 2014 and again in 2015 caused major traffic headaches on U.S. Highway 27. And a valve that failed, not once but twice, near the Food Lion shopping center resulted in the city having to pay for about 200,000 gallons of water from the Walker County Water & Sewerage System before the valve was replaced.

During discussion about how the project would be funded, Haney advised the council that, "We have to provide the water we’ve promised for development along the highway. It doesn’t matter how much we can pump (to the storage tank) if we can’t deliver water."

The city's plan will provide a redundant water supply, meaning a single failure should not affect all customers, and assure a constant pressure system wide, something that is required for sprinklers and hydrants in commercial areas.

"I’d like to express appreciation to Gov. Deal, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, state Sen. Jeff Mullis, and state Rep. Steve Tarvin for their support," Clark said when the grant was announced. "The state’s commitment to helping cities and counties finance infrastructure development is a main contributor to GEFA’s success."

Mike O'Neal is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga. He can be reached at the Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at moneal@npco.com.