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Cost for jail repairs remains unknown

By Brad Hicks

It remains unknown how much Unicoi County will have to pay toward plumbing repairs at the Unicoi County Jail, but measures are in place to cover the project should it exceed the threshold at which bids must typically be accepted.

Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch told officials present at the Monday, Sept. 26, meeting of the Unicoi County Commission that there is not yet a definitive cost estimate for the repairs, but he said he would be meeting with an adjustor on Tuesday to get an idea of what portion would be covered through the county’s insurance and the amount the county would need to pay from its coffers.

“We’ll sit down and discuss what’s going to be the county’s portion and what’s going to be the insurance company’s portion,” Lynch said. “Both are going to be significant.”

Crews are continuing to work to resolve the plumbing issue at the Unicoi County Jail in downtown Erwin, which was discovered more than a week ago and led to the evacuation of the jail’s more than 60 prisoners.

Lynch said there was not time to put the project out for bids prior to the Commission’s Monday meeting.

The county is typically required to put any project or purchase exceeding $10,000 out for bid to accept cost proposals from interested companies or sellers. However, Lynch said the county’s internal control policies allow him to exceed this threshold and bypass the bid process in the event of emergencies. This was confirmed by County Attorney Doug Shults.

Should use of this emergency spending procedure be necessary, Lynch said he would report to commissioners the cost the county had to pay toward the repairs. The Commission on Monday elected to table any action on the project until its members receive cost information.

A leak in a jail sewer line was discovered on Sept. 16. Lynch said Monday the issue began as a blocked sewer pipe. He said as a contractor attempted to clear what appeared to be a grease clog in the line, it was discovered that the more-than-40-year-old metal pipes were deteriorating and would require replacement.

The jail’s restrooms, kitchen and laundry room were impacted by the leak. The sewer line backup lead to water finding its way into the first level of the jail, leading to flooding in this area of the facility.

Beginning on Monday, Sept. 19, the evacuation of inmates from the Unicoi County Jail began. More than 40 local and state inmates were transferred to Carter County, and some state inmates housed in the local jail were transferred to a facility in Bledsoe County.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley told the Commission on Monday that those inmates have not yet been transferred back to Unicoi County.