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Laurel Elementary students got a bit of a lesson in community development Monday when they listened to 9th District Rep. Rick Boucher and Carroll County officials talk about the public improvements coming through the regional water project.
Carroll County officials thought it fitting that the elementary school children — as future community leaders — participate in the groundbreaking that signals water service to 300 homes surrounding Interstate 77's Exit 19 and Wildwood Commerce Park, as well as the sustainable supply that's going to be available to most of Carroll's public water systems.
Cole Moseley and Dale Auton represented the students alongside Boucher and county officials as they grabbed golden shovels outside the school's western entrance. The rest of the young people stayed inside.
Sheltered by the an overhang from the mist coming down on the gray day, the students scooped up a bit of dirt and placed it on a piece of plastic, just like the elected officials did.
"These kids in the community are our next leaders," Sam Dickson, a county supervisor and chairman of the county Public Service Authority, said to the assembly in the school gym just a few minutes before. "We don't want them to go somewhere else and look for a job — we want them to stay here."
Water service to Exit 19 means that the county now has fire protection for Wildwood and the surrounding area, he said. County officials are hoping that businesses will come and employ Carroll residents.
The ultimate goal for providing utilities to new areas of the county is to have jobs available for these students in the long term.
"We're going to push something that's going to keep these kids here and give them some opportunities and this is part of it," Dickson noted.
"Regional water. Young people, if I sent you out and told you I need millions of gallons of water, where you going to go get it?"
"The river," came the quiet answer from one student in the audience.
"River! Guess where we're getting our regional water from — the New River," Dickson agreed. "That's the biggest supply of water and we're going to use it."
All the new projects the county has going will expand the number of Public Service Authority customers from roughly 2,000 to 3,000, he said. The water from the New will supply every public water system in the county except for Cana.
Tapping into the abundant water supply of the New River wouldn't be possible without Boucher's help to arrange the project's funding.
When Dickson served on the county board about six years ago, the idea to join Wythe County and Wytheville on a regional water project first came up, some people weren't so sure it was a good idea, he recalled. But then a year of drought came, wells started drying up and that changed many peoples' minds.
Wes Hurst, vice chairman of the board of supervisors, spoke of the regional water project as a "foundational change" in Carroll's opportunities for growth.
It's a worthwhile project because it will have an impact on Carroll for many years to come, he said.
"If you think about it what we're wanting to do is we're looking for progress that is going to be there for many, many years and it will develop this county, not something that's going to have a short-term gratification," he said.
Holding these remarks before the school population was a good idea because, Hurst said, the young people in the audience represent the future of Carroll County.
For his part, Boucher said the groundbreaking launches a "new era in economic development opportunities in Carroll County."
The local water system will provide service to more than 300 homes and the planned business park, which he expects will in turn provide the county with hundreds of jobs.
Additional information provided in a written statement from Boucher specified that the 22 miles of water lines will go along Poplar Camp, Oak Grove, Coulson Church, Pleasant View, Rescue and Little Vine roads.
The water lines will connect to Laurel Elementary School and the Laurel Rescue Squad facility, along with the many homes.
Wildwood will be one of the largest and most attractive business parks anywhere in this part of the state. "And that will be a magnet for new industry coming to Southwest Virginia and locating hundreds of jobs here in Carroll County."
The water line that extends to the New River at Austinville will supply Carroll with a "perpetual and permanent water source" to meet future needs, he said.
The water project cost approximately $7.3 million, paid for with a Rural Development grant of more than $2.2 million and a low-interest loan of $5 million, he said. The Virginia Tobacco Commission provided additional funding of $262,000.
The House of Representatives member praised Carroll officials for their progressive planning in developing public utilities to all the Interstate 77 exits and the commerce park, as well as a reliable water source. He expects in the future this planning will create thousands of jobs as local startup businesses and larger corporations take advantage of the prime commercial properties there.
When it became clear that the federal economic stimulus package would be approved, Boucher recalled that he had sent out a message to all the localities he represents to prepare to have "shovel-ready projects" to qualify for the funds.
Carroll County listened and had the most projects prepared for the influx of federal funds for water and sewer projects in Southwest Virginia, Boucher said.
In all, Carroll County has received $22 million in funding for this project as well as Fancy Gap water and sewer and Exit 1 water and sewer, he said.