Both the future of a long-planned project for getting residences and businesses of East Kermit back online and supplied by the Kermit Water Plant as well as one involving upgrades for the water plant itself continued to be uncertain this week.
During the Kermit Town Council’s regular meeting May 13, Mayor Charles Sparks updated the council on the town’s ongoing efforts to secure the money required to replace a 1,500 ft. section of waterline that was destroyed during a 2015 flooding event and which supplied East Kermit.
The other task on the town’s to-do list, and which was included as part of the engineering firm’s overall projects cost of $3.8 million, is to complete a number of upgrades at the town’s 40-year-old water plant.
While Thrasher Engineering completed the study and subsequently was able to secure a grant from the USDA for $1.2 million, Sparks said the downside to that news is the town would be required to come up with a match of $1.6 million in order to get the federal grant.
Aside from falling $1 million short of the overall amount determined by Thrasher to be needed to fully fund both projects, Sparks said the town would be required to borrow the matching money, which he additionally pointed out Kermit could not afford to do even at the current assessed amount.
With the 40-year USDA loan on its water plant having been paid off last October, freeing up some capital, Sparks said a plan was previously in place to borrow some of the money should the USDA not fund the entire amount for the waterline replacement and water plant upgrades.
However the amount now being required by the USDA, even after having fallen a third short of the projected cost for both projects, is far more than was anticipated and that the town can presently afford to pay, Sparks said.
“All the applications have been put in, but it looks like we’re going to have to go to the USDA for the money,” he said. “And that’s going to require us to borrow $1.6 million, and that’s basically impossible because that would have to include an 18 percent water rate increase for everyone and we don’t want to do that, even though it would only have to be increased incrementally over two-year periods.”
Council member Tammy Hodge asked if would be possible for the town to reduce the total number of jobs on its projects list — particularly at the water plant — in order to decrease its loan obligation but still receive the USDA grant.
Sparks said he believes some of the projects’ overall package could be trimmed so that the town’s loan obligation can be reduced and that he would go back to Thrasher with the modifications suggestions, particularly in regard to a few of the less critical upgrades at the water plant, and see if acquiring a loan at that point is still doable for the town.
“I think there are some things we could cut out,” he said. “The main thing to me, and I’ve talked to (Kermit Water Superintendent Charles Parsley) about, is getting the electrical in that building repaired. But that would only be about $150,000 to $200,000 to get that done, so I’ll talk to Thrasher again and see what we can do to reduce the amount we would have to borrow.”
Some better news, Sparks said during his mayor’s report, is the rapid progress being made by the construction company — Charleston-based Persinger & Associates — on the aquaponics project at First Burning Creek.
He said the foundation footers for the greenhouse have been poured and that the greenhouse itself should be onsite and ready for assembly by the end of May or the middle of June.
Additionally, he noted, Thrasher Engineering will be further expediting the project’s completion by extending water and sewage lines to the greenhouse site within the next two weeks.