Village Water Deal Surprised County
Moore County officials say they learned about Pinehurst's plans to buy water and sewer facilities in Scotland County the same way everyone else did: from a news release.
County Manager Cary McSwain said a joint meeting is planned in August to discuss the situation. Others taking part will be Southern Pines Town Manager Reagan Parsons and Aberdeen Town Manager Bill Zell as well as representatives of the Lumber River Council of Governments.
"I have no comment until we know something about it," Nick Picerno, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday.
Picerno said he saw a copy of the news release Tuesday night at a called meeting of his board, and that was how he learned of the Pinehurst decision. The commissioners were meeting on another unrelated subject, and the news release was made available at that time.
County Public Works Director Dennis Brobst likewise said he was in the dark about the village of Pinehurst's plans to buy a utility system formerly used by a huge textile plant near Wagram in Scotland County.
Asked how the facilities would be connected to Pinehurst, Brobst said he has talked to no one about that strategy.
"You do have to get from point A to point B," he said in reference to connecting the Pinehurst system with facilities about 30 miles away.
McSwain said he hopes the joint meeting with Southern Pines, Aberdeen, Lumber River organization leaders and the county will produce helpful facts enabling them to evaluate the situation.
"Then we can determine if we have any interest and how to respond," McSwain said.
McSwain said he too had had no communication with Pinehurst leaders about these plans.
"All I know is from a news release," McSwain said. "We want to look at it responsibly."
Pinehurst village leaders announced Tuesday that the village plans to buy a water plant, wastewater plant and intake line from WP Properties Wagram LLC for $5.5 million. The facilities, located about 30 miles from Pinehurst, formerly served the West Point Pepperell plant. The site is on the Lumber River, which flows into Drowning Creek. The plan calls for an official closing of the sale in November.
The proposed purchase poses an awkward question for Moore County, which owns the water and sewer system serving the village of Pinehurst and environs. Village leaders have long complained that the county has been dragging its feet when it comes to making major infrastructure improvements in their system.
The village has tried twice in past years to acquire its own utilities and has lost out both times. The first occasion was decades ago when the private company owning the facilities rejected the village's offer, then agreed to sell the systems to Moore Water and Sewer Authority, the entity that handled utilities on behalf of the county at the time.
After the county dissolved the utility authority in 1999, the village tried again to buy its utilities, only to have that effort fall apart in a dispute over contract details.
The two plants in Scotland County are currently permitted to handle seven million gallons daily, but probably could be upgraded to a capacity as high as 17 million.
As announced, the village plans to continue to serve existing customers of the West Point plants and to retain the current staff.
Scotland County had also been actively looking at acquiring the facilities on Airbase Road a few miles from Wagram. However, The Laurinburg Exchange reported Thursday that the Pinehurst plan would have no adverse effect on county or town revenues or on availability of water to serve customers on the Laurinburg and Scotland County systems.
The Moore County commissioners recently accepted $3 million in federal stimulus funds to replace sewer lift stations around Lake Pinehurst. Half of the money is a grant, the other half a no-interest loan to be repaid over 20 years.
Infrastructure improvements to the county-owned utilities must be financed from enterprise funds accumulated through fees paid by customers.
The county owns water systems serving Pinehurst, Vass, Seven Lakes, Niagara, Hyland Hills and The Carolina development and owns the sewer system serving Southern Pines, Pinehurst, Aberdeen, Pinebluff and Carthage and, under contract, Camp Mackall. The county also operates the East Moore Water District.
In recent months, both the village and the county have discussed the prospect of buying water facilities in the town of Robbins or of rehabilitating that plant to boost the water supply in Seven Lakes.
Such an effort is among numerous recommendations contained in the McGill water study report released last year. The McGill report also mentions the prospect of buying water from the Laurinburg or Scotland County systems, along with the purchase of water from other neighboring counties.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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