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Andrews Town Council discusses upcoming water project

During a special meeting on Friday, Sept. 24, the Andrews Town Council met to present information and request feedback regarding plans to move the town water wells and build a new water plant.

Council had originally hoped that the town would receive money from the State Water Infrastructure Fund (SWIF) for the project, but it did not receive any money from that fund. Out of 700 applicants, only 22 projects were funded. Because of this, Council had to look at other means of funding.

The special meeting began with Council President John Harshbarger presenting a chart that indicated how much money would need to be borrowed if they received a traditional State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan of a certain amount with no additional grants. Each tentative amount borrowed that was listed on the chart also indicated how much the town would have to increase their water rates to compensate. Examples that Harshbarger gave were as follows:

• If the town received $5.5 million, it would have to borrow $500,000 and would have to increase rates by $8.77.

• If the town received $4.5 million, it would have to borrow $1.5 million and increase rates by $26.31.

• If the town received $3.5 million, it would have to borrow $2.5 million and increase rates by $43.85.

Harshbarger did not continue to spell out the rate increases any further than that, stating that it would be “very difficult for us to even talk about doing this.” He also clarified that the council’s purpose was not to raise rates to where citizens can’t handle them, but instead is just trying to “put together a finance package the best we can.”

Of the $6 million that Andrews needs to fund this project, only $20,000 has been received – which came from Huntington County. This funding was given after Andrews requested $2.5 million from the County.

Harshbarger listed three avenues of funding – SRF, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development program. He explained that SRF is both a loan and a grant program and that both the USDA Rural Development program and OCRA are grant programs. As of the Monday, Sept. 27, regular Andrews Town Council meeting, there had been no word on how much SRF funding Andrews would get.

The maximum amount that the town can receive from OCRA is $700,000, and applications are scored – the highest scoring projects are the ones that receive funding. Council has requested that Andrews residents fill out surveys and write in letters to be submitted with the OCRA application because they enable the scoring team to better understand their situation and more accurately score the application.

After explaining some of the differences and requirements between the three avenues, Harshbarger detailed what the future of Andrews could look like if Council did nothing to change the water situation and then detailed what the future of Andrews could look like if Council went forward with the project.

“If we do nothing, we’ll simply have what we already have had for the last 27 years,” Harshbarger said. “A water supply that is polluted, with a known cancer-causing chemical. We’ll continue to put our community health at risk, including our school children – who are the first to consume the water out of the water tower. Incidents such as those that occurred last year could happen at any time and high levels of contamination could pass through our water systems and we may or may not be fortunate enough to detect it . . . not being able to guarentee clean, safe water, puts a negative stigma on the town and could discourage people from purchasing a home in Andrews. Some people have already considered moving out of town.

“On the other hand, the future of Andrews – if we move forward with our plan to move our wells – the best way for us to predict the future of Andrews is for council to be proactive and create a path for a brighter future,” he continued. “Doing what you’ve always done won’t change what you have. Everyone deserves – and should be demanding – clean water from a clean aquaphor, without having to consider cancer-causing chemicals.”

Citizens were then asked for feedback – and many shared their questions, along with their frustrations. Many of those present at the meeting were unhappy with the idea of raising rates to cover the cost of the project, but others expressed understanding that council didn’t want to raise rates, but needed to do so to help the town.

Some citizens were concerned that clean water would not be available “within their lifetime” but Council Member Laura Dillon assured them that the project would be completed in a timely manner and that the water would be safe to drink once the project would be completed.

Another concern expressed during the meeting was whether or not the water would be contaminated due to the fact that the water lines would not be replaced and that contamination may still be present in the current water lines. Council explained that the water lines will be flushed so that contaminants from the old wells and aquaphor will not be present.

Other discussion throughout the meeting revolved around responsibility for the town’s current water plant, the current testing schedule for the town’s water supply and whether or not the second round of SWIF funding could be applied to the project.

At the end of the meeting, Dillon made a motion to move forward with the environmental and ecological tests, as well as moving forward with creating easements and the test wells required to move forward with the project. The motion was seconded by Council Member Roger Newsome and the motion passed.