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Pros outweigh cons in Soules Food decision

VALLEY — John Soules Foods decision to locate a plant in Valley has created some challenges for the East Alabama Water, Sewer and Fire Protection District, but it’s something they should be ready for when the plant goes into production in the third quarter of 2019.

Tony Segrest, general manager for the EAWSFD and a 36-year veteran of water and sewer service, said the pros far outweigh the cons with the Tyler, Texas-based company coming here.

“It will be great for the local area,” he said. “They are very community oriented, and be the largest customer we have ever had. When they are fully operational, they will be the largest employer in Chambers County.”

Segrest was the guest speaker at Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club. He talked a lot about John Soules coming to the Valley and what will need to be done to be ready for them.

Some work is already underway. Some construction work along River Road will allow water to flow along a 16-inch pipe from the new fire station on the Fairfax Village Green to a water storage tank at the Fairview Mill site.

This is a project that had been planned a good while back but fits into a big water user’s plan to locate in the former West Point Home towel distribution center off Towel Avenue. In a couple of months, John Soules Foods will begin a $70 million upgrade of the existing 266,000-square-foot building to install Phase I of its production process. This should employ around 200 people on its first line. In Phase II, another $40 million investment will expand production to several more lines and boost employment to around 500.

When Phase I is underway, John Soules Foods will be using around 400,000 gallons of water a day and will be discharging an estimated 300,000 gallons of wastewater.

When four lines are running some four or five years down the road, the company will be using an estimated one million gallons of water and discharging 650,000 gallons of wastewater per day.

“They will almost double our capacity,” Segrest said.

But it won’t be something East Alabama’s never done before. In the heyday of WestPoint Stevens, they were using considerably more water and wastewater than that.

At one point, East Alabama was taking care of an average of 3.8 million gallons of wastewater per day. When the WestPoint Stevens plants shut down in 2008, that number very quickly dropped to around 500,000 gallons a day.

With the wastewater plant being designed to handle a huge influx of wastewater, the plant had to be drastically reconfigured to keep operating.

“We almost lost it,” Segrest said.

The task now is to be able to handle those big discharges again. East Alabama has done it before and has a good idea of what needs to be done this time.

The tricky part when it comes to John Soules Foods involves the time of day they will have their greatest water use.

“They will have two shifts,” Segrest said. “The first and second shift will be for operations and the third shift will be for cleaning. Their greatest water use will be from 12:30 at night until 5:30 in the morning. It will be a challenge figuring out how to get the water to them at that time.”

A new lift station is going to have to go in close to the former Utilization plant on River Road.

“We’re already working on a design for it,” Segrest said. “It will be needed to pump wastewater out of the new plant.”

East Alabama will be working with the City of Valley to get some Community Development Block Grants to have the needed infrastructure improvements. There’s a very strong probability they will be approved, given that this involves job creation and the community as a whole will benefit.

Public water in the Valley comes from the Chattahoochee River and is processed at the Chattahoochee Valley Water Supply District plant in Lanett. Water will be piped from there to the East Alabama transmission lines to the new plant. The Water Supply District, which is jointly owned by Lanett, East Alabama and the Huguley Water System, has a withdrawal permit of a maximum of 8 million gallons a day with an average not to exceed 5.8 million gallons a day.

East Alabama’s largest water user is EAMC-Lanier Hospital, which uses around 1.6 million gallons in a year. The Verandas and the Vistas apartments are also large water users. All of them put together, though, are nothing compared to what WestPoint Stevens used to be and what John Soules Foods will be.

Clearly, getting water for John Soules Foods won’t be a problem. This fact was one of the big factors attracting them to Valley. The availability of a 266,000-square-foot building was another key factor as well.

Segrest is also excited about the new fire station that will begin operations in about one month. He’s optimistic it will drop Valley’s rating. The vast majority of the city and its jurisdiction will be within five miles of a fire station. The only exception is a small area on Judge Brown Road in an area that’s covered by a mutual agreement between East Alabama and Huguley.

The Huguley Water System has some big users such as Knauf, Norbord, West Rock and all the plants in the Chambers County Industrial Park, located off I-85 at Exit 70 in Cusseta.

East Alabama has a very large service area. It extends from the Lee County line on the south to the Randolph County line on the north. Except for areas covered by Lanett, Huguley and the City of LaFayette, East Alabama is the service provider for the entire eastern half of Chambers County.

East Alabama is the wastewater provider for the county industrial park. The sewage leaving those plants travels a complicated path of underground lines and lift stations to make it to East Alabama’s wastewater treatment plant on the river.

Segrest said that East Alabama’s biggest problem involves its aging infrastructure. Much of the system was built by the West Point Manufacturing Company and its successors. It’s a good system but very old. Replacing its isn’t cheap. One mile of a water or a sewer line costs an average of $172,000 to replace.

“What we have here is good,” Segrest said.  “But it’s old, and it needs to be upgraded. The new industrial park in Valley will be another challenge for us. It’s like everything else, we will have to deal with it on a case-by-case basis.”

Segrest had the opportunity to tour a John Soules plant in Gainesville, Ga. and came away most impressed, especially in the way they keep the plant clean.

“It’s a top-notch company,” he said. “It is a very, very clean place. The walls, the ceilings – everywhere you look – is stainless steel. It’s a very thorough process for you to go in and to come out. They are very strict with everything, and you have to do it in every phase.”

Going in and coming out involves clothing changes and the use of lots of sanitizers.

“John Souls Foods will be a great company for the local area,” Segrest said.