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Oswalt to retire after four decades with city

By Michael Butler

After 41 years with the City of Tallassee, Steve Oswalt is calling it quits - maybe. Though he states that the possibility of continuing in a part-time capacity remains, Oswalt is looking forward to doing, "nothing."

Oswalt has worked at Tallassee's Water Treatment Plant since 1990. His first job with the city was as a Tallassee Police Department dispatcher. The mayor at the time was Lloyd Tippett. Oswalt even served as the city's first Circuit Clerk Magistrate. In all, he has worked under six mayors.

"Bobby Payne is probably the best," Oswalt said of the current mayor. "He's been good for this water plant."

On Friday, Feb. 20, Oswalt will make his retirement official.

The supervisor won't miss the pressure of making sure residents have good drinking water. "I'm looking forward to not getting called after hours," he said. "I want to get away from the responsibility. Our guys are responsible for what you drink everyday."

The Tallassee plant is one of the oldest in the state, built by Mount Vernon Mills in the 1800s with the initial purpose of generating electricity. It was converted to a water filtration plant in the 1920s.

The city had an arrangement with mill until its closing in 2004. "They didn't have to pay for water up to 15 million gallons. They were using about 15 million gallons. They didn't conserve."

The plant pumps about 38 million gallons a month these days. Tallassee uses about 15 million to supply its seven water tower tanks. The rest goes to Wall Street, Friendship and Eclectic.

"A lot of plants have more modern equipment. We're more hands on," Oswalt pointed out. "I would put our water up against anybody's as far as quality. We have a clean source."

The water that flows down the Tallapoosa is said to be the best in the world. There is an old saying that if you ever taste it, you'll always come back for it."

"When I go out, I drink water. I might drink bottled water out of town," said Oswalt. "People would kill for the water quality here. They take it for granted. You ask kids where does the water come from and they say, "that faucet."

Oswalt works on what he calls the "clean side" of Tallassee's water. The sewer lagoons are under a different department.

The 24/7 operation has six full-time employees on staff at the plant that sits next to Thurlow Dam. Some of the equipment from the early days of the operation is still used.

The slide once used for chemical deliveries
and for joy rides by elementary school kids

There is an empty chemical building that has been vacant since 1995. A slide was used to deliver the chemicals down the hill from behind the Tallassee Elementary School, now City Hall. Children also used to access the slide during recess.

Oswalt said there have been more than a few incidents that made him nervous about Tallassee's water supply levels.

"A couple of years ago, we had to put new transformers in and they blew up. We watched the water levels fall while we put the old ones back in," he recalled. "When a water main breaks, I've seen it get down to five feet. The night of the Hotel Talisi fire (in 2009), 2,500 gallons a minute were pumped for several hours. It's like running your car wide open.

"You never know what tomorrow's going to bring. I pray over this plant every day. The good Lord has watched over this plant."

Oswalt has mixed emotions about retirement.

"I'm excited but scared. I've been working since I was 16. We're like a family here."

A ceremony commemorating Oswalt's 41 years of service will be held at City Hall on Monday, Feb. 23 from 4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.

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