This time next summer, some residents in south Madison County could have running water.

The Mt. Olive Water Association announced recently that it was approved for a $1 million state grant to fund an extension project in the Pettigrew/Boston area. The extension – estimated to cost about $8.8 million – will make water available from St. Paul “to the top of Whittmore Mountain and up Highway 16 to near Red Star, including varying distances up many side roads,” according to a release earlier this year.

The association received a federal grant for about $6.6 million and was approved for a $1.7 million loan. Without the state grant, though, the chances of the extension going forward were slim.

“We learned from the state last month that we’re going to get our grant from them, which means the project’s a go now,” said Ray Eaton, manager for Mt. Olive.

The project will see “probably two or three months” of engineering work, Eaton said, followed by a few months to obtain easements and to bid the project out.

“I would say realistically, after we get through the whole process, we may have water in the spring of 2020,” Eaton said.

Some places, though, could take longer to have lines extended to them. Total, 45 miles of water line will be constructed for 246 new customers.

“My guess is that we’re probably two years away from completion of the project,” said Mt. Olive Board Vice President Sonny Varnell. “It’s a time consuming process, and I just hope the people don’t get disappointed in the interim, because water is on the way.”

Varnell has had hopes for the extension project for decades. He recalled signing up for the extension in 2001 when the Madison County Water Facilities Board was seeking a grant to fund the project, and has been on the ground – and knocking on doors – since, campaigning for sign-ups to better the utility’s chances of receiving federal and state monies.

“I put days in just driving the roads and stopping at houses that I didn’t have addresses for, and just telling people about the proposed project,” he said. “My predecessors have worked on the project and I can’t tell you who all worked on it, but the project for South Madison County just about died, and we resurrected it and started talking about it and visiting and things like that, and our work has paid off. It’s been a good couple of years that we’ve been on it on it, but it’s paid off.”

Eaton gave much of the credit for the grant’s approval to Varnell.

“He’s probably more responsible for this than anybody,” Eaton said. “He put in more time into it, running up and down those dirt roads, getting names and deposits. He deserves a lot of credit.”

Eaton said the new customers will be on a separate billing system from the utility’s existing ones. He said the minimum monthly cost for the new customers will likely be around $30.

“It’ll be a different rate structure, and it won’t affect the people on the original system,” Eaton said. “It had to be a little higher rate [for new customers] to meet the loan.”

Over the last few years, Mt. Olive has accepted preliminary sign-ups for the water extension, charging $300 deposits. Now, if a new customer wants to be included in the extension, it will cost the full hookup rate of $1,050.

Without the state grant, Varnell said the minimum billing costs to customers would have been too high to make the project feasible.

“We’re thankful for all of it, because without even the $1 million state grant, it would have made the minimum bill so high that we couldn’t afford the project,” Varnell said. “But now, the work begins.”

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