Brantley citizens discuss water, sewer projects during public hearing

Published 6:19 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

The town of Brantley held a public hearing Feb. 21, creating an open discussion between local officials, concerned citizens, and Ashley Hutchison, Director of Community Development for South Central Alabama Mental Health Commission (SCAMHC) about water and sewer system expansions and upgrades and gathering feedback from the community.

Mayor Bernie Sullivan explained that without necessary upgrades, made possible through the help of ADECA director Kenneth Boswell, the expanding town cannot accommodate the needs of its residents, creating a situation which could stifle future economic growth and impede upon the development of the South Central Alabama Mental Health Crisis Diversion Center.

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“We have to meet the needs of our growing town,” Sullivan said. “The South Central Alabama Mental Health Crisis Diversion Center is expected to be operating by late 2024 and other businesses including some retail, are coming to what will be a light industrial park that all together will create approximately 160 jobs.”

Upgrades were partially funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grants and through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Community Development Block Grant Economic Development (CDBG-ED) program. Sullivan said officials have been working diligently on the grants.

“Our old, antiquated water and sewer systems were constructed in the 1950s, mostly from terracotta, and designed to service a small number of homes and facilities,” Sullivan said. “The ARPA grant funding is part of monies awarded by ADEM in 2022 for public water and sewer system improvements through a statewide initiative to repair and upgrade old, failing, and overwhelmed systems.”

During the hearing, Troy Hudson, Engineering Project Manager, discussed the project’s details, and presented maps and cost estimates used in the grant applications and the project development.

“The state legislature authorized up to $225 million from ARPA for grants to water and sewer infrastructure, administered and overseen by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM),” Hudson said. “Brantley raised their hand and was fortunate to get selected. Some areas are in bad shape and a few water lines have already been replaced by previous CDBG projects. We are replacing mains valves and other valves, some fire hydrants, and other things that will help to support more volume.”

Alfreda Wiley, a lifelong Brantley resident, expressed concerns about the road conditions in front of her home, noting damage caused by water and sewer projects construction. 

“On East Mill, near my house, we have to drive through what looks like a big sinkhole because it gets bigger and bigger,” Wiley said. “From the church up is nothing but mud.”

Reverend Greg Huff, pastor of Greater St. Matthew A.M.E. Church echoed Griffin’s concerns, adding that the poor condition of the road and the uncertainty of when repairs will be made, add to the severity of the inconvenience.

“My concern is for those driving that road daily,” Huff said. “We don’t know about the timeline, but we do know that there is going to be a continual interruption for a while. Is there more that can be done now that is not permanent but is better than what we have?”

Town officials acknowledged the citizen’s concerns and assured residents that they would work to address the current issues as quickly as possible.

“That area was bad when I drove through and although we can’t pave the entire street until all work is done, we’ll soon get to the point where we can put in some asphalt patching,” Hudson said. “It won’t be perfect until then, but it will be better. We just ask that you please be patient as best you can as we really don’t want to have to pave that street right now and risk having to tear it up again.”

Councilperson Daryl Elliot explained that current projects will take the stress off this particular over-assessed area of sewer.

“We need to hit home with the fact that these projects are going to improve our sewage systems and water systems as a whole,” Elliot said. “We have some really bad and really old things in place right now and these updates and replacements are going to eliminate these kinds of problems.”

Ashton Hutchison, Director of Community Development for SCAMHC discussed the town’s intent to apply for ADECA Block Grant funding.

“The director of ADECA has conditionally approved $350,000 from the CDBG-ED program with an additional 250,000 from the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission,” Hutchison said. “I am here to solicit your questions, comments, and concerns that I will use to develop a needs assessment for the application that will be submitted to the state after the next public hearing. Mental health is committed to the creation of 65 jobs in exchange for the money for this project.”

According to town officials, the hearing was an example of how community involvement and public discourse can help create a better community for everyone. Residents were encouraged to continue to bring their concerns to public hearings and other community events so that they can be addressed in a timely and effective manner.