Agreement Closer on Water Plan
County Commissioners Larry Caddell and Jimmy Melton met Tuesday with officials from Robbins and Seven Lakes to lay out a plan for finding a way for Robbins and Moore County to work together to meet water needs.
The need to find some long-term solution to county water needs prompted this preliminary meeting, a first step in forging a possible water agreement between Moore County and Robbins.
The county needs water, particularly for its western Sandhills region in the area of West End and Seven Lakes.
Robbins has an abundance of water and a closed water plant too expensive to operate for the town's more modest needs. Robbins had incurred debt to upgrade it and a wastewater treatment plant in an effort to keep a poultry-processing plant -- and its many jobs -- up and running in Robbins.
The plant closed anyway, leaving the town in financial straits. Now, this water that the town no longer thinks any big plant will ever need could prove a vital resource for the county.
A recent water study advised this solution along with a possible collection point in the Deep River near High Falls.
Both ideas were on the table Tuesday at the county public works building where county and town officials and employees talked about ways to meet the needs of both.
In addition to the two commissioners, the group included County Manager Cary McSwain, Public Works Director Dennis Brobst, Utility Operations Director Ben Vaughn, county commissioners' clerk Megan Owrey, Robbins Town Manager George Hayfield, Mayor Theron Bell, Town Commissioner Mark Garner, Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Coughlin and two Seven Lakes residents, Dewitt Petterson and Dave Kinney.
"You can never have enough water," Caddell said as he opened the meeting. "Drought conditions over the last few years taught us that. Our plan was to get people to the table on how to get a good supply."
A 12-inch line from Robbins to the Seven Lakes community would cost an estimated $3.7 million to build.
"That would be about $270,000 a year over a 20-year loan," Caddell said. "It would cost some $3 million to upgrade the old plant."
The cost per thousand gallons for water supplied that way would be about $4 per thousand gallons, including debt service, according to Brobst, who added that his figures were based on assumptions taken in order to come up with an estimate.
"That $4 is going to be on the low side, I think," Melton said.
Vaughn pointed out that those figures were based strictly on water treatment and did not include any consideration of using the Robbins wastewater plant.
"We have a 1.3-million-gallon water production capacity," Bell said. "We use maybe 200,000. That plant is in pretty good shape."
Robbins still has a $1 million debt to settle, having recently refinanced at a lower interest rate.
"We pay around $700,000 a year now," Hayfield said. "We refinanced to 20 years, better than before."
Brobst asked Bell if the Town Board had given any thought as to how Robbins would like to do this partnership with the county.
"Oh, yes -- but it is not set in stone," she said. "The town would want at least majority ownership, with a minimum guaranteed number of gallons per year (purchased by the county) and to retire the current million-dollar debt."
Hayfield floated the idea of the agreement including a right for the town to buy out of it at some point in the future, but this looked like a deal-breaker to Brobst and Melton.
"There are a whole number of different possibilities of getting stimulus money," Hayfield said. "The town does want at least majority ownership of the plant."
The cost of water, any way they looked at it, was sure to increase for the Seven Lakes area.
"We would expect to pay more for water," Kinney said. "We just don't want to go broke doing it."
Robbins has been upgrading its infrastructure in an effort to cut down on the huge percentage of lost water that sometimes was as high as 50 percent. Hayfield said Robbins would have all radio readers installed, and all new hydrants this year.
"Jimmy and I went up and looked at that plant at the reservoir," Caddell said. "The worst part was only cosmetic. My concern was that it was on a bluff -- must be 40 feet deep -- and on the other side is a railroad track. Would it be cheaper to spend $2.2 million to build a new million-gallon-a-day plant that could be upgraded later to 3 million?"
New technology such as super-pulsation could form the heart of such a processing plant, a significant change from the idea of upgrading the existing 1930s-era plant. Carthage uses a membrane technology plant and has had troubles keeping the level of certain pollutants within federal and state water quality standards.
"Membrane plants are race horses," Caddell (who had been Carthage mayor at the time of that plant's construction) said. "We are just trotting along."
Robbins needs to sell its water, but no longer expects, or even anticipates, the possibility of having a big customer such as a textile mill or poultry plant, Bell said.
The group set two early August dates for a next meeting at which specific proposals would be made by both Moore County and Robbins. The meeting ended with a sense of relief that the first steps were being taken.
Kinney said, "I feel a lot better today at 4:30 than I did yesterday at 4:30."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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