County's Utility Improvement Needs Reach Into Millions
Moore County will likely have to expand its wastewater treatment plant within five years.
If the county does not come up with an expansion plan by that time, the next word on the Moore County Board of Commissioners "to-do" list may be a moratorium on growth.
Board Chairman Colin McKenzie brought up that dreaded word during the commissioners' recent planning retreat.
Public Works Director Marcus Jones had just told the board that it would cost $25 million to $40 million, based on engineers' estimates, to expand the existing wastewater treatment plant at Addor.
The plant was built to serve Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen. The plant now also serves Pinebluff, Carthage, Camp Mackall and outlying areas.
In addition to expansion of the Addor plant, Jones mentioned such needs as $2 million for the Vass treatment plant conversion, $2.5 million for a West Pinehurst interceptor and $1.5 million for a sludge dewatering system.
That's in addition to $750,000 for digester rehabilitation, $300,000 for maintenance shop expansion, and $25,000 to continue building and road repairs.
In fact, the millions of dollars needed throughout the county's utilities system prompted one of the newer board members to admit that the financial situation is mind-boggling.
"If we don't get some of these things done, we'll have to talk about a moratorium," said McKenzie.
Jones assured the commissioners that the wastewater treatment plant at this time is comfortably below the threshold in which an expansion plan must be prepared. But he tempered that assurance with the prediction that the threshold will be reached within five years.
"That's when the state acts," he said. "Then we may need a moratorium."
An issue facing the county is the shortage of state and federal grants and low-interest loans to help pay for such huge improvements. these types of grants were much more plentiful in the 1970s when the county was working with Southern Pines, Pinehurst and Aberdeen in building the wastewater treatment plant.
If the county has to borrow money, then the burden will fall upon users of the system. Revenues from rates must fund the system.
East Moore Takes Off
In addition to the report by Jones, the commissioners heard an update on another aspect of the water system from Tony Patnode, community development director.
Patnode works out of the Department of Planning and Community Development, not the Public Works Department, but he has helped develop the East Moore Water District and is also working on the North West Moore Water District.
Once these systems are operational, they become part of the county's public utilities system. However, they are operated through their own enterprise funds.
In his review, Patnode reminded the board that the initial utilities were administered by the Moore Water and Sewer Authority, known as MoWASA. The county became dissatisfied with this arrangement and abolished MoWASA in 1999 and replaced it with the present system operated under the Public Works Department.
County utilities were limited to water service in Pinehurst, Seven Lakes, Vass and a few smaller water systems and to the wastewater treatment plant. That left large rural areas without water or sewer services.
An engineering study determined that rural areas would be best served by formation of water districts largely located outside two townships, Sandhill and Mineral Springs, which are ineligible for federal grants because of their relative affluence.
The county authorized formation of the East Moore District in 2000, and the initial response was enthusiastic.
"Our sign-up drive snowballed in 2002, especially after we endured the most severe drought we'd ever had," Patnode said.
Voters in the East Moore District overwhelmingly approved passage of a $16 million bond referendum in 2001, something that was required before the county could apply for federal grants and low-interest loans through the Rural Development agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Work on the first phase of East Moore began in 2002 with $3.3 million in USDA grants and loans, and including local funding in the form of tap fees paid by potential customers. The third contract was completed in 2005.
The second phase is taking much longer, and the $8 million grant/loan may not be sufficient. Patnode said he expects a bid opening in March. The second phase is twice the size of the first one. The first phase involved about 40 miles of mostly eight-inch pipe, whereas Phase II is 84 miles of 12 and 16-inch pipe.
Sign-up is under way for the third phase, the rural area of Carthage Township.
Development of the North West Moore Water District has become more complicated and has moved more slowly.
Formed in 2003, North West Moore has about 1,200 names on the sign-up list. An application for funding was submitted in 2004.
A recurring problem in both water districts is the practicality of providing water to everyone in the district. Because rural areas are not densely populated, it is not feasible to extend water lines along all roads where potential customers reside. This disappoints some residents and also interferes with the success of grant applications. USDA wants 80 percent participation, and in North West Moore participation so far is up to about 54 percent.
The county is also considering water purchase contracts with Montgomery and Chatham counties and also from the town of Robbins. Water-purchase agreements are further complicated by economic conditions in Robbins, which suffered a severe shortfall with the closing of one industrial plant that was a major water customer a couple of years ago.
One other factor under consideration is the public schools' facilities master plan, which includes almost $800,000 in water needs for High Falls and Westmoore elementary schools.
Issues raised by the commissioners were covered in questions about Robbins' eligibility for grant assistance as a municipality and the feasibility of incorporating the Robbins municipal water system into the North West Moore District.
Patnode replied that Robbins is probably eligible for grant assistance and that incorporation of the two systems is a possibility, if both local governments could reach agreement.
In his Public Works report, Jones also covered maintenance and expansion needs of the county water system, which includes a $1,175,000 allocation for an interconnection for the Pinehurst system with the East Moore District. The interconnection is to occur at the McCaskill Road intersection on U.S. 15-501.
Although the county link is with East Moore, it involves separate money coming not from East Moore but from the county's utilities' enterprise fund. However, the interconnection cannot be completed until East Moore reaches the McCaskill Road intersection.
Among the multitude of upcoming projects are the N.C. 211 water main, a $1,148,000 project to be completed in April, the Pinehurst 14-1 upgrade, $535,969, to be completed in March, and the Seven Lakes tanks interconnection, $454,000, completion expected in July.
Jones also reviewed pending property management improvements and solid waste needs. Future solid waste needs include relocation of the landfill collection site, land acquisition for landfill buffering, replacement of landfill equipment, purchase of a tub grinder for yard waste, replacement of two roll-off trucks and an egress scale at the landfill.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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