More steps taken toward Route 50 sewer project

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Several actions related to the Route 50 sanitary sewer project were taken by the Athens County Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday as they prepare to put the project out to bid.

Commission President Lenny Eliason said he expects the project to go out to bid in May or June. The estimated $28.8 million project will provide sanitary sewers to the subdivisions west of Athens and other nearby areas, with the city of Athens treating the sewage.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to provide at $14.3 million grant for the project — plus a 40-year, $14.5 million loan.

After a closed-door meeting with their attorney Frank Lavelle to discuss easements and land acquisition for the project, the commissioners voted to seek a drawdown of $180,000 from USDA.

Eliason said the purpose is to have money available for easements and acquisitions, but the $180,000 is not the specific amount that will be needed.

In open session, Lavelle said that about 230 easements are needed for the project, and he is expecting about 200 to be donated.

Commissioner Charlie Adkins asked if that is an unusually high number of donations.

“That’s pretty darn good,” Lavelle responded. “Any easements that have to be purchased are just adding to the project cost, which makes everybody’s bills (higher).”

Lavelle said about 20 easements are under appraisal, and about 10 more appraisals will be needed. Property owners who disagree with an appraisal can have their own done at their own cost.

In January, the commissioners approved a resolution that declared the project necessary for public health and welfare. The resolution stated that eminent domain could be needed to acquire land and easements.

Filing eminent domain cases would require the county to post funds with the court based on the estimated value of the property or easement, with the court process then determining the appropriate compensation. Filing an eminent domain case allows a project to go forward without all the easements or land purchases acquired.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners hired Columbus-based attorney Dennis Schwallie of the law firm Dinsmore and Shohl to serve as bond counsel for the project.

Lavelle said the USDA appears to be leaning toward having the loan closing before rather than after construction.

“The bonds would actually be issued sooner rather than later,” Lavelle said.