Village Weighs Options on Wagram
The Pinehurst Village Council is trying to determine how to move forward with its proposal to purchase water and wastewater treatment plants near Wagram in Scotland County.
A lengthy discussion about the matter, and water and sewer issues in general, ensued during the afternoon session of the council's retreat last week. The council, village staff, members of the village's water committee and members of the audience took part in the discussion.
The group kicked around different ideas on how to approach the current situation. The $5.5 million deal has stalled as the village awaits a decision from Scotland County, which has the authority to approve or deny the proposal. There's no indication of when or if it will vote.
Mayor George Lane opened the conversation, indicating there hasn't been any new word on the deal.
"What are we going to do with the water if they (Moore County) don't want it?" he asked, referring to the possibility that the purchase is approved. "And then I started thinking that this is a burden we're putting on ourselves. The county has to supply water to us. There are people now that want to get into the water business. Do we want to get into the water business?
"Would we be better off if we walked away from this and said we can't afford it? Or if Scotland County did not show an interest and that if the county wants to pick it up, they can pick it up from here? If a private person wants to pick it up, they can pick it up from here?"
Still 'Good Idea'
Mayor Pro Tem Ginsey Fallon said it would be "a shame" to abandon the deal, considering that the village had high hopes and that it was a "good idea." Lane said he still thought the deal was a good idea.
Fallon expressed her frustration with the delays in Scotland County. She added that she was glad the village had not spent an estimated $100,000 on studies and due diligence of the proposal yet, considering it still hasn't gotten approval. The village has not committed any money to the due diligence process yet.
Councilwoman Nancy Roy Fiorillo said that the more she learns about the Wagram proposal, the more she realizes it needs to remain in public hands.
The council seemed to agree that it in addition to carving out its own place at the bargaining table, it was making the purchase to ensure there's enough water in the future for the village and the region.
"I felt very strongly, that yes, it's a lot of money, but it would be a wonderful thing to have this source of water so that we could know that when we all left council, there would be a source of water," Fallon said.
Lane said it was time that Moore County stepped to the plate.
Councilman Doug Lapins said he saw a number of options for moving forward, including the concept of a county utilities advisory commission, which could be used to get a routine dialogue going. He said there could be a way for the village to be an equity partner with the county in the future.
He said he did not like the Wagram idea based on the numbers he crunched, calling it "too expensive."
"The trick is to find that investment that makes sense to the county and makes sense to us, that gets us water," he said, "and I don't know what it is. To me, Wagram wasn't it. To me, it was a pipeline from Scotland County or wells or whatever, but it's some way to buy our way into the table."
Fiorillo said she did not know what move the village can make on Wagram, other than going to Moore County and asking if it could partner on it. She said that the county appears to be more interested in developing groundwater supplies rather than surface water sources and wasn't sure if the village could ever convince county officials that Wagram was a good deal.
"Wagram may not be a good deal," she said. "I don't know."
'Frustration at Every Point'
Don Van Roosen, chairman of the village water committee, said his group is frustrated and feels like it is poorly utilized, despite its members having vast expertise on these matters. He said the committee would submit a report to the mayor with recommendations regarding water and sewer issues, including Wagram.
"We'd be very disappointed if this Wagram thing didn't go through," he said. "Very, very disappointed."
Van Roosen said his committee can help answer some of the questions the council is asking. He also stressed the necessity of formulating a regional approach to water.
"I think, Don, there's frustration at every point at the table at the present time," Lane said. "Don't get disheartened. It's my responsibility to make sure I don't take this village down the primrose path. It's difficult to negotiate when you're the only person in the room."
Lapins said as a new face to the situation, he wants to develop a relationship with the county.
"At least we've got them back at the table again," he said, referring to a recent meeting that he and Lane had with commissioners Larry Caddell and Cindy Morgan.
Others in the meeting were more skeptical but agreed that the village needed to continue trying to talk.
"I think we ought to give it one more try," Lane said.
Resident Carl Ramey said he didn't think that the village could seriously repair relations with the county while pursuing the Wagram purchase. He argued that relations with the county have worsened as a result of the proposal.
"The council has a responsibility, I think, to decide whether they really want to pursue Wagram, or relinquish it and repair relations with the county," he said. "I don't think we can do both at the same time. It's just not realistic."
Fallon said she didn't understand why bringing more water to the county was viewed as "an insult." Walter Bennett, a member of the water committee, said the purchase was always intended to be a regional solution.
"We have never approached this as a Pinehurst project," Bennett said. "This Wagram thing has been approached totally as a regional idea. From the very outset, we brought Southern Pines, Aberdeen and everybody else into the act."
Ramey said that the county's perception seems to be the complete opposite.
Lane said the village has an opportunity to talk with the county Thursday at its quarterly meeting with municipal leaders. Village Manager Andy Wilkison and resident Doug Middaugh suggested that might not be the appropriate venue, and recommended scheduling a separate meeting.
Wilkison confirmed Friday that Lane would pursue a meeting with the commissioners to talk about the matter.
Lane said, "All we're trying to do is get some cooperation to be able to sustain ourselves into the future."
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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