Robbins Weighs Options on Water
Robbins got good and bad news this week from a water plant report.
Bill Lester, of Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates, told the Town Board during a meeting Monday that company engineers looked at three water source options. Unfortunately, all three would mean an increase in water rates.
On the bright side, a new state-of-the-art treatment plant would cost little more than the investment required to bring the town's 70-year-old treatment plant back on line. Even better news was unexpected information that Asheboro has plenty of water and will sell it cheaply.
State certification of the old Robbins plant has lapsed, and the state Department of Environment and Natural Re-sources (DENR) would consider its refurbishment new construction. It would have to meet the same standards, Lester said.
The special meeting began with commissioners amending the agenda to add a possible closed session so commissioners could discuss the town's bargaining position in any contract negotiations with potential bulk water purchasers. The most obvious such buyer - almost visibly standing in the wings - is the county, which is looking for a way to get water to the Seven Lakes area of Moore County.
Lester laid out three basic options. The first is staying with the current plan and continuing to buy water from Montgomery County. The contract requires a minimum purchase of 125,000 gallons a day at $3.07 per thousand gallons, up to a maximum of 145,000 gallons a day. Above that, the rate doubles to $6.14 per thousand gallons.
Town Manager George Hayfield told the board he had been negotiating with Montgomery County and was able to get that ceiling raised to 195,000 gallons before double rates kick in.
Even with that concession, water rates would have to rise by 10 to 15 percent if Robbins stays with the Montgomery County option, Lester said.
The second option he examined was restarting the existing plant. It would cost $3.2 million to upgrade the old plant, of which $2.5 million would be construction costs. There would be additional costs from DENR treating a restart as "a new withdrawal," according to Lester.
The third option, possibly the one most attractive to commissioners at first glance, would be building a new water treatment plant. Lester described a modern system combining pretreatment with a micro-pore filtration system similar to what Carthage uses. That would cost only a little more than the old plant upgrade, about $3.4 million.
"Equipment is not quite half, but it is a large part of that cost," Lester said. "This plant would start with a 500,000-gallon-a-day capacity. Expandability would be cheaper."
Either the upgrade or the new plant option, at present water usage, would mean rates going up by 38 to 39 percent, the report projects. However, there was a brighter side to the picture with a bulk water purchaser. All those numbers were based on Robbins using 200,000 gallons a day with no bulk water customer.
"If you use 450,000 gallons, you dramatically change what happens," Lester said. "At that, you drop below the increase in the Montgomery County option."
Instead of rates going up between 10 and 15 percent, he said, they would have to rise by only a third to half that much: 5 to 10 percent instead of 10 to 15.
At that point in the meeting, Commissioner Lynn Loy made a motion for the board to go into closed session to talk about instructions to the town's negotiators, who will be talking with potential bulk purchasers and staking out positions to use negotiating any new plant construction contracts.
Robbins would seek combined grant/loan financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) like the one offered last week for the town's first fire station. USDA will not consider such financing without a bulk water purchase contract, the board was told.
The very best news of all may well have emerged during an ad hoc meeting last week with representatives from Asheboro and nearby counties and communities. Hayfield attended that Friday morning session.
"Asheboro has more water to sell than anybody," Hayfield said in an interview while the board was meeting in its closed session. "They have probably 6 million gallons a day they can sell at 88 cents per 1,000 gallons. Even at double that, the price (of Asheboro water) is way below the $3.07 to $6.14 per 1,000 gallons under our new contract with Montgomery County. All it would take is a pipeline."
He estimated that the cost of such a pipe at about $400,000 for three miles in Moore County and three more across the line in Randolph County. Instead of the water flowing up from Robbins toward Westmoore, it would flow in the opposite direction toward Robbins.
"We did a lot of brainstorming at that Friday session," he said. "Allen Hart from USDA was there. So were County Manager Cary McSwain and Dennis Brobst from Moore County. With Asheboro water, we would not have to worry about inter-basin transfer. We are both in the Cape Fear River Basin."
Environmental rules limit the amount of wastewater than can cross over from one basin to another.
The town commissioners emerged from their closed personnel session and took only two actions. They called a special meeting for 6 p.m., Oct. 5, to consider the town manager's performance.
The board previously had said it would review Hayfield's performance twice a year. The commissioners set certain goals that they termed "KPI" or "key performance indicators" for his work, so he would know what they expected from him. They will evaluate his KPIs at that Oct. 5 session.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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