Touring the Water Plant

Longtime water treatment plant operator James Conn shows members of the City Council how the automated controls work at the plant. The councilman pictured include John Myers (background), Dink Myers, Randy Whitaker and Phil Kelley.

Lots of things are going on with the utilities that operate in Guntersville. The Guntersville City Council got a firsthand report on the work Friday.

Mayor Leigh Dollar likes to take the Council on “field trips” to look at specific aspects of the city from time-to-time.

Past tours have included all city departments, new developments, the Schools of Guntersville and now utilities.

Stops on the utilities tour included the Guntersville Electric Board, Guntersville Water Board, a tour of the Sunset Drive Water Treatment Plant and the Marshall County Gas District. Then the Council went back to Town Hall, where they were briefed by telephone and cable companies concerning their developments in Guntersville.

These were a few of the highlights:

Electric Board

The Guntersville Electric Board has 6,400 customers, manager Jason Kirkland said. About 1,500 of those are outside the city limits, which is a little unusual for a municipal utility, Kirkland said.

In addition to Guntersville, the board provides electricity to Red Hill, Alder Springs and Little New York near Lake Guntersville State Park.

Parts of the city – the Walmart and Belks on the mountain and Gunter’s Landing north of the river – are served by other electrical utilities. Kirkland said that dates back to a 1985 act of the legislature when utilities were asked to define their “footprint.”

“We would love to serve those areas,” he said. But by the same token, those systems don’t want to give up their customers and their future revenue.

Pilgrim’s Pride is the utility’s largest customer. Other industrial customers along with the State Park are also in the top users of electricity in the city.

The Electric Board has changed its logo because the old one looked too much like the Water Board’s.

“We could show up at a customer’s house in a bucket truck and they would still think we were with the Water Board,” Kirkland said.

A big thing coming for the Electric Board will be a new pre-pay plan with a 24-hour kiosk out front where customers can pay. They will also be able to manage their electric bill with their computer or smart phone. They think the pre-pay plan will greatly reduce the number of people who get a cutoff notice on their electric bill.

Some substation upgrades are also in the works.

Water Board

New Water Board manager Bay Chandler said upgrades to some wastewater pump stations are in the works for his department.

They are finishing up the big upgrade to the wastewater plant at East Lake.

“Feb. 24 is supposed to be our completion date, but I don’t think we will make it,” Chandler said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’ve had a lot of rain.”

Because Guntersville has so many hills and valleys, it makes the water system and especially the sewer system unique, Chandler said. There are many more forced mains for wastewater than a typical system in Alabama would have. Components in the pumping stations wear out and have to be upgraded from time-to-time.

The East Lake sewer plant is being upgraded with a State Revolving Fund loan.

The Water System has 4,347 customers.

Guntersville has a “hybrid” system for reading meters, with some automatic meters that can be read at the Water Board office. Meter readers still check some meters by hand.

The Gas Board

Special legislation in 1952 allowed 2 or more cities to go together and form gas districts. The Marshall County Gas District is owned by the cities of Guntersville, Albertville and Arab and the mayor serve as the Board of Directors. The City of Boaz was originally part of it, but pulled out and formed its own district.

“We sell them gas,” manager Richard Lawson said.

Marshall County Gas has grown far beyond Marshall County and now serves parts of 7 different counties. They are always looking at cost-effective areas where they can expand.

“We now have over 26,000 customers and we are the second largest public gas utility in Alabama,” Lawson said.

A big part of Lawson’s job, in addition to the day-to-day management of the system, is buying gas and gas futures. May is a great time to buy gas.

“I’ve made some bad calls, but I have made some good calls too,” Lawson said.

The system has distribution lines and has gas storage capability in some underground salt caves in Mississippi.

“You’d think you would lose some gas storing it in a cave like that,” Lawson said. “It’s less than one half of one percent though.”

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