News Column

Size, cost play into Gray decision on sewage plant upgrade

June 25, 2014

By Mike Stucka, The Macon Telegraph



June 25--Federal regulators say the city of Gray should double the size of its sewage plant to keep up with growth.

The city says that's not right -- the plant should be tripled.

City Superintendent Russ Dorman said the Jones County city hasn't yet had to turn away customers or new developments, but that could be coming.

"The city of Gray, without this plant, cannot grow to its potential, because we're all pretty much tapped out now," he said. "It's not because our council has not had this idea in the forefront. The paperwork goes back to 2007."

But the city began planning the plant about the time the economy soured and growth slowed. Census Bureau population estimates show that parts of Middle Georgia are losing population, and growth slowed elsewhere.

Dorman said the city should build a 1.2 million-gallons-per-day plant for about $10 million, but it could need a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan and grant to help fund it.

USDA officials say the city should build an 800,000-gallons-per-day plant for about $8.8 million.

The current facility can handle about 400,000 gallons. It would be almost entirely replaced, rather than added on to.

Dorman said the USDA has a valid argument about what growth rate to expect, because growth patterns changed so much when the economy soured. The federal agency expects the city's needs would double over 20 years, the target life for the new capacity.

Dorman said the city's engineers think the doubling would take place in just 14 years, while the city's demand would triple in 20 years.

The Census Bureau found 3,276 people living in Gray for the 2010 Census. That's an increase of 52 percent in a decade, which is fast growth by most anyone's standards.

But the latest Census Bureau population estimates suggest that Gray had 3,268 residents a year ago. If those figures are correct, the city not only hadn't grown much the last few years; it had actually lost a small number of residents.

Dorman said a decision on how to move ahead with the sewage plant will likely be made in the next two months.

The city is weighing options, which are centered on funding. The USDA doesn't want to offer a loan for the larger plant, but it is willing to offer a loan for the smaller plant.

And if a salary survey being conducted now by the Middle Georgia Regional Commission proves that households in Gray make less than about $45,000, the USDA will forgive part of that loan, basically a grant, that could save the city about $3.5 million.

The city is also looking at state loans. Sewer rates and money from a special purpose local option sales tax will round out the payment needs, Dorman said.

Even with a larger plant, the city doesn't expect to extend sewer service to much more of the unincorporated area.

"The city of Gray cannot grow without a bigger wastewater treatment plant," Dorman said. "We entertained county growth, but right now we can't really entertain anything."

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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Source: Macon Telegraph (GA)