Options On Water Explored
Robbins and Moore County have begun exploring a possible new partnership to meet future water needs.
At a work session in Carthage Thursday afternoon, town and county commissioners — two each plus the mayor — met to talk about a new entity to connect water resources in the northern part of the county with customers in the Sandhills.
For four years, negotiations between Robbins and Moore County have stalled on the issue of the county’s eventual ownership of the town’s water supply. Under this new plan, an entirely new entity would combine county and municipal assets.
It would mean constructing a new water treatment plant in Robbins but keeping the town’s large reservoir and other existing infrastructure.
A North West Moore Water District — managed by an independent board — would become the water company for everybody from Westmoore through Seven Lakes. Robbins has plenty of water, but its plant is closed, and the town currently buys water from Montgomery County.
There is a cap of 200,000 gallons a day after which the cost doubles. With only 600 customers, the town’s rates are high despite its enormous reservoir. Water goes dead in storage and has to be dumped and replenished.
“It’s 100 million gallons just sitting there,” said Nick Picerno, chairman of the county commissioners. “The new idea is to create a new partnership. By participating, I imagine it would lower your water rates.”
Lower rates would make Robbins more attractive to investors looking to site a plant as well as families wanting to move there.
At a county board budget retreat earlier in the week, county Public Works Director Dennis Brobst said this would have the added advantage of complete control of the system. With the system fully located in Moore County, neither the county nor Robbins would be dependent upon the will and needs of other counties.
Moore County will obtain a three-year extension on a $16 million bond issue passed overwhelmingly by referendum several years ago. After that, the town board would need to pass a resolution to take part.
“It’s doable,” Brobst told the group. “Using an asset we already have, we can cut a lot of head-time. You might not have to buy land for a plant if you can set it somewhere near the reservoir — which is where it needs to be.”
Area ‘So Vast’
The success of the East Moore Water District has encouraged optimism on the part of Picerno and County Commissioner Larry Caddell.
As mayor of Carthage, Caddell spent a decade working on town water needs. The county seat built a new, modern treatment plant and — after years of bureaucratic hurdles — restored its old reservoir at Nicks Creek.
“This was a 10-year project,” Caddell said. “You’ve never seen the problems we had. Now (Carthage has) a 3 million gallon plant and Nick’s Creek. It’s our time to do something. The best solution long term for Moore County is to include Robbins. I’m just stating a fact.”
The McGill water study, a comprehensive look at existing water systems and prospective resources for Moore County, completed a few years ago, proposed county water solutions using Robbins. Mike Apke, from McGill, was at Thursday’s discussion.
“The problem is it (the northwest area) is so vast,” Brobst said. “We don’t have the population density we had in East Moore.”
That problem could be met by combining the needs of the Seven Lakes area and the potential of a future Heart of Carolina Industrial Mega-Park planned on the Moore-Montgomery County border, with Robbins as source and plant site.
Robbins Mayor Theron Bell wanted to know how selling all its assets to the county would benefit the town.
“It’s selling to a board,” Picerno said. “The new entity owns it. It is only viable if we bring our people — those Seven Lakes users — and sell them to the deal. You have assets you sell also. The board is independent. You would have two commissioners on the board.
“The key thing is: It’s not a county board. It’s a new entity. You get 2,600 customers from day one.”
That would mean an initial customer base of 3,200, with more adding on during the sign-in period.
A number of alternative ways to put such a partnership together were discussed. Rocky Davis, a Robbins commissioner who is also Carthage’s public works director, asked whether a long-term lease rather than a sale would work. Robbins Town Manager George Hayfield asked if — rather than in money reflected in debt service adding to water rates — Robbins could be paid in water instead.
“What if Robbins was paid 200,000 gallons a day?” Hayfield asked.
That and other details would need to be worked out. The key difference at this meeting was that, for the first time, all options, including the town’s selling its old plant and large reservoir, were on the table. Robbins would sell its assets and the county its customers to the new water district. The county would contract with its board to operate the plant and service the lines.
Robbins Town Commis-sioner Claire Matthew asked whether the new water district would pay the cost of maintaining the infrastructure — all the town’s water lines, which include many old pipes that need constant repair and replacement — rather than Robbins.
“We could spend $10 million and put all that into infrastructure,” Hayfield said.
Maintenance would no longer be a burden on the people of Robbins under this plan. The new Northwest Water District would take over all maintenance for the entire area it served.
“The district would then be responsible,” Caddell said. “It has always been my belief that this was the best option. I think, long term, this is the best.”
Picerno summarized some of the main advantages that would come Robbins’ way with this partnership. Economic growth was at the top of the list, as the availability of a secure water supply would make the area much more attractive.
“It would also mean a more reliable water supply,” he said. “You’d have better water at a more affordable cost.”
As a way of resolving any conflicts, Brobst suggested they consider hiring a completely independent adviser.
“Perhaps an independent third party could look at these alternatives and make a recommendation to everybody jointly, at the same time,” Brobst said. “Each board could fund half of (the cost).”
That might be a way to move more quickly, Davis said, depending on the cost.
“Why don’t you, Dennis, get us some numbers?” he said. “What would an independent evaluator — for the study — cost? That way, you’ve got a starting point.”
There was a mood of cautious optimism as the meeting ended.
“We are going to get this done,” Picerno said.
Bell was also somewhat hopeful.
“Thank you all very much,” Bell said. “We think this is very important for Robbins — for our board, our people. We thank you all for meeting with us. I’ve been wanting this for some time.”
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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