The pending August closure of Shaw Industries' facility in Decatur, Tennessee, poses a significant impact on the Meigs County seat's plans for a new $16-18 million water treatment plant.
Shaw is the Decatur water treatment plant's largest customer at 19% of the utility's annual water sales, so its shuttering means town officials will have to take a new look at the treatment plant project for possible downsizing, redesign or other cost-cutting changes, incoming Decatur Mayor John Wayne Irwin said.
Irwin is replacing former Mayor Jeremy Bivens, who stepped down in June to spend more time with family.
"It's still in the works. We've not halted the project by any means, but we're probably going to take a step back to look at it to decide what we want to do," Irwin said Tuesday in a phone interview. "Maybe we downsize the plant or maybe we don't do the plant and hook up to an adjacent facility instead."
The effect of Shaw's closure, he said, will be a matter for the mayor and Board of Aldermen to address as they seek the way forward. In June, Meigs County Mayor Eddie Jewell said the plant closure would affect every resident in the community.
Shaw's Decatur facility, a major water and sewer customer since Shaw purchased the building in 1976, will cease water usage with the coming closure except for small-scale uses such as drinking water as the plant is closed out, according to an email Tuesday from Shaw spokesperson Dana Hartline.
The plant's closure by the end of August will idle 336 jobs as residential carpet manufacturing operations move to Shaw's Northwest Georgia facilities, according to an announcement by the industry in late June.
During the past five years, the Dalton, Georgia-based carpet maker, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has invested in numerous expansion and modernization efforts in the Southeast, company officials said in the statement issued on the closure. Consolidating carpet manufacturing operations are expected to allow Shaw to more fully utilize its assets.
Shaw purchased the facility in Decatur from Fil-Tex Corp. in September 1976, according to Shaw officials. The building was constructed in 1971.
In April, Decatur was awarded a $4.2 million grant to help fund the water treatment plant project. The grant issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation was part of $233 million in grant funds awarded through the state's American Rescue Plan fund.
Irwin said the town has been awarded grants totaling about $12 million of the estimated treatment plant costs, and the rest — around $4 million — would come from city coffers.
The existing plant, capable of producing 1 million gallons of treated water daily, supplies its approximately 2,600 customers through 500 miles of pipe and 10 water tanks with a storage capacity of 243 million gallons, according to utility information on the municipal website.
Original water supply expansion plans some years back called for a higher capacity connection with Watts Bar Utility District, Irwin said, and that idea could resurface as officials study options for Decatur after Shaw closes. Decatur's water system is also connected to Athens Utility Board water supplies as a backup.
"Currently, we have a well and spring," Irwin said, "and when needed, we buy water from AUB and are also connected to Watts Bar with a small connection."
The planned new water plant would double treatment capacity to 2 million gallons per day and would draw its water from the Tennessee River, Irwin said, comparing it to the city of Dayton's municipal water supply in Rhea County on the other side of the river. A permit from the Tennessee Valley Authority to allow the drawing of water from the river is still pending.
No other industries in Meigs County use enough water to make up for the loss of Shaw, Irwin said, and Shaw also was the town's biggest sewer customer — 59% of its treatment operation — dealing another financial blow to utilities. Storm Power Components will become the county's largest employer, but it uses little water or sewer.
TVA is building a $300 million power control center in South Meigs County that is expected to be completed and operational by 2024, but Irwin said TVA will get its water supply from Savannah Valley Utility District, not Decatur.
Officials should be able to use the grant funding for the treatment plant for other water system ideas if the treatment plant plan is dropped, Irwin said, but for now, it's still the plan on the table.