County Considers North West Moore Water Options
The future of the North West Moore Water District may take new directions, depending on actions by the county commissioners and the Robbins Town Board.
On Tuesday night, the Moore County Board of Commissioners called a public hearing for its April 19 meeting on a proposal to extend the $16 million bond authority granted by voters in a 2004 referendum.
Yet to be resolved, however, are several issues, including options for developing new boundaries beyond the four townships in the initial plan and expanding those boundaries to Seven Lakes.
The original district, encompassing Ritter, Sheffield, Bensalem and Deep River townships, excludes municipalities and is dependent upon low interest loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development agency.
"The next step is to meet with Robbins and determine their level of interest," Public Works Director Dennis Brobst said in a presentation to the board.
Brobst reported on a meeting he and County Manager Cary McSwain recently had with USDA officials.
Although the discussion mostly centered on generalities, Brobst said they did learn that it is possible to change the district boundaries, but other steps are needed if Robbins is included. Rural water districts do not usually include municipalities.
Expansion of the district would enable the county to upgrade water service to Seven Lakes, the largest unincorporated development in Moore County and now a major customer in the county water system. Seven Lakes is largely dependent upon wells and a tie-in with the part of the county system serving Pinehurst.
Only registered voters within the four townships in the North West Moore Water District were allowed to vote in the 2004 referendum. The referendum vote empowers the district to go into debt up to $16 million to build a water system.
That authority is based on the understanding that USDA-RD will provide grants and/or low-interest loans to get started. Added to that would be funds collected through payment of early tap fees by prospective customers. The debt would be paid off over 40 years through fees paid by water customers.
Other sources of funding were mentioned, including the Environmental Protection Agency's STAG (State and Tribal Assistance Grants) program and private sources.
That bonding authority runs out in May. The county has already received approval from the Local Government Commission to extend the bond authority for another three years. But first, the commissioners must take an official vote on the matter after holding a public hearing.
Several issues must be resolved.
In addition to setting new district boundaries, including Seven Lakes, the county board must secure approval from the town of Robbins if the water line is to be extended from town-owned facilities to Seven Lakes. And the county needs a plan for securing water for the district.
A major issue is the lack of interest exhibited by residents of the four townships in the original district. Despite the favorable vote in the referendum, the county did not receive a sufficient number of responses from residents interested in tapping into the new water system.
This was quite different from the reaction to the East Moore Water District, formed several years ago and now in its third and final phase of development. East Moore residents suffered severe water problems and most were eager to join a water district.
At least one county commissioner, Craig Kennedy, lives within the original North West Moore district boundaries, and he recently told fellow board members that he never received a notice inviting his family to join the district. He lives in the Westmoore community.
Interest has peaked in recent years as Seven Lakes continues to grow and water remains a key issue throughout the county. County officials came up with the idea of expanding the stagnant North West Moore district to include Seven Lakes, resulting in thousands of new customers who would make it a viable district.
Brobst said potential benefits of expansion include getting group rates.
One proposal calls for Robbins to donate its water facilities to the district and for the county to donate that part of its system to the district. A new water plant would be built in Robbins with connections along N.C. 705 with a tie-in with Asheboro. This alternative, including a new plant and booster station, would cost an estimated $14.1 million.
Another alternative would be even more costly, estimated at $15.3 million, and would run the water lines from the proposed industrial mega-site at the Moore-Montgomery county line to Seven Lakes. Routing would be from Spies Road to the N.C. Zoo near Asheboro. The mega-site is just in the initial planning stages and may not be fully developed for a number of years.
The least expensive, estimated at $5.5 million, would run a line from Westmoore School.
Brobst pointed out that regardless of which alternative were to be chosen, the line would pass through Robbins.
Although the public hearing is not scheduled until April 19, one opponent to the proposal spoke out during the public-comment period at the beginning of the Tuesday meeting.
Doug Middaugh, of Pinehurst, said provision of water to Seven Lakes from a revised North West Moore district "is not necessarily the best plan available." For one thing, he said the expanded district would mean the loss of about 2,600 Seven Lakes customers from the county water system.
"There is little doubt that the current MCU (Moore County Utilities) rates to its remaining customers will increase although this remains an item not addressed," Middaugh said. "This increase can be viewed as a subsidy to the NWMWD and its customers that the remaining MCU customers will now be forced to pay."
Middaugh said the change would also mean a rate increase for Seven Lakes customers. He urged the board not to rush its decision on what he called a "flawed plan."
In other utility-related business, the commissioners agreed to provide interim financing to the East Moore Water District to cover the period between the awarding of contracts for Phase 3 work and issuance of bonds based on a loan from USDA-RD. The decision includes setting the interest rate at 2 percent.
The two contracts, totaling more than $2.2 million, were awarded at a March 1 meeting of the commissioners.
The interim financing transaction required two separate actions by the commissioners, who were required to adjourn as the board of commissioners and convene as the East Moore district to act on behalf of the district.
East Moore Water District is a separate entity, but the district contracts with the county for administration, maintenance and other required services. If the North West Moore district is ever formed, it is likely that a similar contract will be required.
The commissioners conducted a public hearing on a third utility matter, a request to amend the water shortage response ordinance as it pertains to the Pinehurst and Seven Lakes portions of the county water system.
Brobst asked the board to amend the triggers that require mandatory water restrictions and explained that if the existing triggers remained in place, it would be necessary to impose restrictions this month. He reported that the recommended revisions had been approved by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
No one spoke against the proposed changes, and the commissioners voted unanimously to amend the ordinance as recommended.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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