A year after bankruptcy, Tenn. town was flooded

June 17, 1991|By ELLEN UZELAC

Folks in tiny Copperhill, Tenn., aren't sure which was worse: the bankruptcy or the flood. Either way, the community of 450 on the Tennessee-Georgia line is in deep trouble.

For years, miners extracted ore from the Tennessee hills to make sulfuric acid. A good bit of the TNT used during World War II was made with sulfuric acid from Copperhill.

But by 1982, there was only one factory left, and tiny Copperhill was stuck with payments on a large sewage treatment plant, enough to handle 1 million gallons of waste a day. The problem: Copperhill, which only has 250 water customers, didn't have the money to pay off its construction loan, according to town Councilman Keith Ballew. The now-closed factory was to have been the primary user.

Copperhill offered to sell the plant, a 1958 fire truck and a 1958 garbage truck, to no avail. ("1958 was a good year for us," Mr. Ballew said.) Meanwhile, the construction loan on the sewage plant grew to$400,000. Copperhill couldn't even afford the interest payments.

In 1987 Copperhill filed for municipal bankruptcy; then last year, a flood washed through town. Many businesses turned tail on Copperhill.

"We were just starting to see light when the flood came," said Mr. Ballew. "This will all take years to get resolved. But we're grateful for Chapter IX. If it hadn't been there, I don't know what we would have done. We'd have been in real trouble then."

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