The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is providing $5.6 million to overhaul water and sewer infrastructure in Greene County, leaders there announced Friday morning.

In a joint press conference featuring elected officials and municipal staff from all over the region, Eutaw mayor Latasha Johnson said the city provides both water and wastewater services to the nearby community of Boligee.

Citizens there have long been complaining that their water pressure is unacceptably low as aging infrastructure struggles to move water to and sewage from Boligee, which is around 10 miles away from Eutaw.

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"We're here because God has answered our prayers," Johnson said. "We have a 16-inch line that runs from Eutaw to Boligee, and over the years they've been crying out because of the pressure of the water and the limited amount of water there. So we have worked together and reached out to ADEM and ADEM has rewarded us this grant, with no match, and that's a blessing."

Eutaw had asked for about $25 million in ADEM funding, and after months of negotiations has been awarded $5.6 million without any requirements to match that money with cash from their own coffers.

The money will fund a five-year project to replace vital equipment at pumping stations in both communities.

Corey Martin, Eutaw's wastewater treatment operator, said the project will improves conditions for decades to come.

"The first part of this project is for the most critical infrastructure needs, mainly lift stations that have failed and have not been given proper attention in years," he said. "Lift stations are designed to operate on two pumps and most of ours are operating on one, barely. There's one that's operating on a temporary bypass pump. If the lift stations cannot push the sewage from Boligee or from Eutaw to our lagoon, the system does not function because that sewage will not travel uphill or against the normal rules of gravity."

The funding drew praise from both Governor Kay Ivey and U.S. Representative Terri Sewell, who issued statements to be read at the press conference.

"In Alabama, we believe in helping our neighbors and that's exactly what the cities of Eutaw and Boligee are doing," Ivey said. "I am proud to see both cities come together to strike a mutually beneficial compromise that will go a long way in improving the quality of life for the residents of each community."

Sewell said the funding was made possible by money from the federal government's landmark American Rescue Plan Act.

"This is great news. For too long, Alabama's rural communities have suffered from failing wastewater systems that have put the health and well-being of our residents at risk," Sewell said. "Access to clean water and adequate wastewater infrastructure is a basic human right and this funding for the city of Eutaw will be instrumental as we work to end this crisis."

Mayor Johnson praised the cooperation that led to the grant being awarded and only lamented that relief had not come sooner.

"It is a big step for our community and our county as a whole, letting people know we are working together trying to solve issues that should have been solved many many years ago," she said. "My heart goes out to the people -- how could you sit in a political position and ignore people crying out about a water issue?"

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