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Newton County receives $212 million grant to renovate water and sewerage systems
Arthur Scott Emmons Water Reclamation Facility
The Arthur Scott Emmons Water Reclamation Facility is one of five parts of Newton County's Water and Sewerage system to benefit from a $212.7 million grant provided to allow for major renovations. - photo by Taylor Beck

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County was given what Chairman Marcello Banes called “a big win” for the area in the form of a federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) drinking water grant totaling $212.7 million. 

The grant application, which was written by Newton County staff from water resources and finance, was officially awarded last Tuesday, Jan. 31, and will provide Newton County Water Resources, Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority and the city of Covington funds to do extensive renovations to five key pieces of the county’s water resources system. 

The news of the grant first came in the form of an official letter from Banes who called the grant “a point of pride for Newton County and its outstanding partnerships.” According to Banes’ letter, the grant will be used toward improvements to the county’s drinking water infrastructure as a response to the area’s growth trends. 

“This selection of Newton County and its partners for this $212,783,781 grant also the value of our strong community partnerships and proves that by working together, we are able to make big things happen,” Banes wrote. “The work that will be done with these funds will truly be a community effort utilized by Newton County, the City of Covington and the Newton County Water and Sewage Authority.” 

Based on verbiage in the grant application obtained by an open records request by The Covington News, the grant will allow the county to “improve its drinking water quality, drinking water supply and its water reclamation treatment and collection system by implementing a regional initiative to make these overdue infrastructure improvements.” 

The grant's three main objectives listed in the application are to “provide water services in underserved/unserved areas of the County where population has increased,” as well as increasing capacity due to economic development and growth and to “replace infrastructure which has exceeded the functional lifespan.” 

Since at least 2018, according to the grant application summary, multiple industrial projects and additions have either opened or are planned for the Newton County area. Among them listed in the grant application are the Nisshinbo expansion which was announced Sept. 7, 2018, and forecasted to bring 100 jobs; and a General Mills expansion announced Sept. 8, 2020. 

Additionally, phase one and phase two plans that brought Facebook and Baymare facilities to the area were also listed. 

These, along with the planned arrival of electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian — expected to bring 7,500 jobs to Newton County — along with the groundbreaking Absolics’ new glass substrate facility are just the most recent signposts of massive economic and industrial growth coming to the area. 

And, of course, industrial growth gives way to residential growth. According to the grant application’s summary, the county’s water and sewage systems, as is, will soon become overwhelmed by the expected increase.

Dubbing the project the, “Regional Infrastructure Resiliency Initiative for Newton County,” it’s projected to serve zip codes 30014, 30016, 30025, 30054, 30055 and 30056 with a service area population of 115,355, according to July 2021 U.S. Census numbers. The total price tag for the Resiliency Initiative is about $216.4 million. The grant application summary states that the remaining funds needed will come “from local sources.” 

More specifically, according to the grant application, the following are the five specified targets for the initiative’s upgrades: Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant, the East Newton Water Transmission, the Scott Emmons Water Reclamation Facility, Industrial Reuse Water Facility “and their related components to serve Rivian,” the City of Covington Water Reclamation Facility and the City of Covington Eastside Basin.

Two projects in particular — the Water Reclamation Facility improvements, and the Eastside Basin improvements — were specifically cited as integral to the county’s ability to continue future growth. 

The Water Reclamation Facility improvements listed are the addition of a new mechanical bar screen, influent structure rehabilitation, replacing odor control structure, replacing aerators and the addition of a new equalization tank. 

As for the Eastside Basin, its proposed modifications include replacing and upsizing the existing gravity sewer main. Extending the gravity main would also free up capacity by allowing the newly built Eastside High School’s sewer main to operate more efficiently. 

The grant application summary states that, “without these improvements, Covington will no longer be able to accept new industrial or residential projects and will limit growth within the City and Newton County.” 

The ARPA Act of 2021, which is also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, is a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021. It was designed expedite the nation's economic recovery after the pandemic. 

The county government is the wholesale provider of treated water for most of Newton and parts of Jasper and Walton counties. It pumps the raw water from Lake Varner and treats it at its Cornish Creek Water Treatment Facility before distributing it to residents of said counties. 

In his letter, Banes also thanked Gov. Brian Kemp and the state Office of Planning and Budgeting.