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Decatur Utilities head retiring to Northwest

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

Decatur native Kem Carr, who has led the city's utility company for nearly eight years, announced his resignation Wednesday, saying he is going to apple country.

After 24 years at Decatur Utilities, Carr said he is moving to Manson, Wash., where he will be secretary-manager of the Lake Chelan Reclamation District, a utility company providing irrigation, domestic water and sanitary sewer services.

Carr, whose last day as DU general manager is March 23, said he's leaving knowing that DU is financially sound.

"It's good that I'm leaving on a high note," Carr said. "The job will give me new challenges in a part of the country where I want to live and work and retire in."

Manson, with a population of about 3,100, is about 150 miles east of Seattle, Carr said.

Carr, who is eligible for state retirement, announced his decision during a morning Utilities Board meeting. Board member Hugh Hillhouse said Carr will be greatly missed.

"I've known him for a long time, and he's done a lot to make DU a much stronger utility in good financial shape," Hillhouse said. "He's customer oriented and a joy to work with."

Hillhouse said the board will research the general manager's job description and begin looking for candidates "fairly soon."


Carr's announcement surprised Hillhouse and Decatur Mayor Don Kyle.

"I hate to see him go," Kyle said. "But if it's something he's passionate about, I say congratulations on the opportunity."

During the board meeting, Carr said DU's financial outlook is the best it has been in five years.

"I don't see any area we need a rate increase in the next five years with the possible exception of waste-water treatment," Carr said, irrespective of increases passed on from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Measures to reduce sewage-pipe overflows, including 34 during heavy rain events during the past three months, and odor controls at Ingalls Harbor could escalate waste-water rates, Carr said.

DU is selecting a consultant to critique the situation and propose a solution.

Declining natural gas commodities and DU's success in the futures market have meant 35 percent lower bills for customers during the past three months compared with the same period last year.

"The commodity rate is still down," Carr said. "And even in January and February, usage was up, but the actual commodity rate was still down from last year."

Customers using the same amount this month as opposed to the same month last year will pay about 35 percent less, Carr said.

"Compare our billed rate with others, and we're much less than others in the state," he said.

One expenditure discussed Wednesday involves replacing a primary transformer station that is about 50 years old.

Stanley Keenum, DU's operational manager, asked the board to authorize up to $40,000 to hire a consultant to study replacing the primary station, which could be a $4.5 million to $6 million project.

"Decatur has three primary stations that TVA feeds electricity," Carr said. "And then we send it to 40 other substations. The transformers are the most costly piece of equipment. We're hiring a consultant to figure out the best long-term fix."

Carr said he is confident the primary station, which carries 100-plus megawatts, will function properly until it is replaced.

"It's such a large capital expenditure," Carr said. "We don't want to spend the money until we have to. It takes quite a long time to build it, and there's quite a backlog."

Keenum said if DU ordered transformers in August, it could be a year before delivery.

The last order of business the board approved was $475,000 to replace or reline about 7,300 feet of clay waste-water pipe.

Gary Borden, DU's gas, water and waste-water manager, said the repair should mitigate some of the 34 overflows the Flint area of U.S. 31 experienced in the past three months.

The total number of sewage overflows for the previous year should be available next month, Carr said.

Carr said he would meet Monday with the City Council to discuss a waste-water issue in Limestone County and the possibility of Decatur restricting sewer extensions to within the city limits.

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