Earl Gohl, who co-chairs the federal-state partnership that works for economic development in Appalachia, joined Bill Shelton, the state’s director of Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), as well as several other state and federal officials on Pridemore Road. Gohl came away impressed with the Pridemore Road project and the Virginia Self-Help program, which has paved the way for 45 projects and brought water to 1,350 households over the past 12 years.
“I’ve been in state and local government since I was 24. Nothing makes you more scared or more excited than when you have a group of citizens that get together and determined to do something, because they can be either really helpful or really scary as an elected official,” Gohl said. “To have 40 projects like this in this part of Virginia, to be able to get people together, to be motivated, to be determined, to just do it yourself is really impressive, and that is how we get stuff done.”
Pridemore Road was one of three stops for federal and state leaders June 22. The group also visited the Crossroads Institute in Galax as well as the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts. Carroll County Administrator Gary Larrowe said the visit was beneficial for all parties involved.
“They were impressed with everything and exceptionally impressed with Pridemore Road in particular. They were very interested in what’s been going on in Carroll County, and very complimentary,” Larrowe said. “The reason why they were coming was to learn a little bit about how we are progressing with water and sewer and making things happen, and then also for us to plant some seeds for future funding for other projects they might end up helping us with.”
Pridemore Road is the second Self-Help project in Carroll County history, joining a project that brought water to citizens on Happy Hollow Road last year. Realizing that funds for county water would probably never be available, Pridemore Road citizens broke ground on the Self-Help project March 16. During the project, they installed pipe, conducted traffic control, moved stored materials on-site for installation, operated small equipment and other activities associated with the project. Working alongside employees of the Carroll County Public Service Authority (PSA), Pridemore Road citizens will soon be able to enjoy safe county drinking water. The project was only possible because of DHCD grants that lessen the cost of water projects when citizens are willing to provide the bulk of the labor.
Jimmy Wallace, Project Director of DHCD, told the group of officials he popped in on the Pridemore Road project a couple of weeks ago. He said he’s been amazed by how swiftly the citizens have moved on the project.
“As I came in here I kept driving and driving and driving, and I was thinking where in the world are they? I was amazed that lines had been put in the ground because they really hadn’t been working that long and they only work three days a week,” Wallace said. “I finally found them, and as I came up on them they had their signs out, their hard-hats on, and they had seven or eight volunteers and three PSA workers, which is the perfect ratio. So it’s been a model project.”
Roger Jones, the spark plug of the Pridemore Road project, said at least six volunteers have worked on the project every day but one. As many as 12 citizens have worked on the project on occasions, he said. Wallace said the Pridemore citizens have put in roughly 10,000 feet of mainline and are now ready to test and flush the lines. They will soon put in the service lines, which will complete the project.
Over the past 12 years, Wallace said the Self-Help Virginia program has completed 45 projects, bringing water to approximately 1,350 households. In total, he said those projects have saved almost $13.8 million versus the conventional way most water projects are done.
Larrowe, who also serves as PSA Executive Director, said citizens from Happy Hollow and Pridemore had been asking the PSA for water for probably five years or more. Once he learned about the Self-Help program, things took off very quickly.
“All of a sudden Jimmy pops up after a telephone call and gives a presentation to the board (of supervisors) and then to the PSA. Then we are off to the races because we had a need and we had a way of actually fulfilling that need,” Larrowe said. “So we have been very open to the opportunity. Carroll County right now is going through an extensive growth of infrastructure anyway. We are putting in water and sewer lines all over the place as a result of some of the stimulus money. And I think you will end up finding that Carroll County has gained more out of that than any other county in the commonwealth according to Rural Development, and maybe even one of the leading counties in the nation according to them with about $24.5 million going into the ground right now.”
Larrowe said the DCHD has been great to Carroll County as it has expanded its infrastructure and made efforts to cover all Interstate 77 exits in the county with water and sewer to further economic development.
“Tying that into these kind of programs is just monumental to be able to serve the people here as well as the growth that we might have for the communities,” Larrowe said.
Jones said 90 percent of the people on Pridemore Road currently use well water. One or two of them may be hooked up to reservoirs, he said.
“Most of it is wells and a lot of them go dry. A lot of the water has iron ore and rust,” Jones said. “I can speak on behalf of our group — we were determined from day one. We meant to go through with it anyway possible because when it is dry like it was a couple of years ago and you go down to your reservoir or whatever water source you’ve got and you run out, it’s scary because you don’t know if it is going to fill back up or not. My nephew lived down the road and had to drill three or four wells and finally got a trickle of water to get by with.”
Wallace said he’s been amazed to discover that self-help projects have fewer leaks than conventional projects. A lot of that can be attributed, he said, to the fact that citizens take a lot of pride and care in these projects.
“The self-help projects had significantly fewer leaks than if a private contractor had put it in. We’ve had a high percentage, over half of them had no leaks when they pressure tested,” Wallace said. “I think that is a testament to the technical assistance the PSA gives them and the care they take when they are putting in their own water system. They take a lot of pride in it and do a really good job.”
Near the end of the discussion, Jones provided a good laugh for everyone when Gohl asked him what has been the easiest part of the project.
“Standing here right now,” Jones said.