Fire Protection Hurdle Cleared for Eye Clinic Expansion
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Carolina Eye Associates may now proceed with an expansion proposal expected to create a minimum of 15 new jobs.
Voting 4-1, the Moore County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a fire protection plan that will involve extension of water lines serving the eye clinic on Midland Road.
The project is expected to cost $724,800, of which $150,000 will come in a grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. Carolina Eye is committing $166,600 of the cost, and the remaining cost will be borne by Moore County Public Utilities with $241,000 expected in the form of assessments from future new customers.
It was the cost to county water customers that prompted Commissioner Tim Lea's dissenting vote. He suggested that the board table the matter for further study.
"Carolina Eye is a great benefit to our community," said Commissioner Larry Caddell, who worked with Commissioner Jimmy Melton on negotiations with the clinic. "I don't even know how they get everybody in the lobby over there."
County Manager Cary McSwain said the water extension would benefit the county system by eliminating a bottleneck and allowing the county to buy more water from Southern Pines.
The plan calls for running a 16-inch water main from the intersection of Memorial Drive and N.C. 211 to the Traffic Circle, reducing to a 12-inch line on to Midland Road and then continuing the 12-inch line on Thorn Road, then up Midland Road to the clinic.
The improvement is designed to provide both the new building and the existing building with the required 1,500 gallons per minute fire flow protection. The result would also improve fire service to the entire area, according to information supplied by Public Works Director Dennis Brobst.
The extension is needed to comply with Pinehurst village fire flow requirements. The county owns and operates the water system serving the village.
Lea said he was glad to learn of Carolina Eye's expansion plans and said "economic development is obviously very important."
However, Lea questioned if the county would not be setting an unfortunate precedent by committing ratepayers' money to private development. He pointed out that developers of the Dormie Club paid to extend water lines from U.S. 15-501 several miles up N.C. 73. The county received a Rural Center grant for that project as well, but the money was used to connect the county system with the East Moore Water District, thus enhancing water service to Pinehurst.
Lea cited other examples in which private entities had paid for their own water extensions, including Pinehurst Inc. for a new spa and FirstHealth for its new heart center. He conceded that the Carolina Eye project would benefit the county through removal of the bottleneck at the Southern Pines connection but said the county can expect other firms to ask for similar consideration in the future.
"To me, this is a totally different thing," Caddell said. "This is something we'd have had to do someday anyway."
Caddell pointed out that the Dormie Club developers needed adequate water to complete their project on N.C. 73.
"Carolina Eye could have gone to Southern Pines," Melton said. "We felt this should be part of the county system. This can't do anything ut increase our water system."
McSwain said the proposal was developed after about eight months of negotiations involving the two commissioners, county staff and Carolina Eye principals. He said the clinic expects to add 18 to 20 jobs but was willing to commit to only 15 jobs, sufficient to draw down the Rural Center grant.
Board Chairman Nick Picerno added that the clinic expansion would also add to the county tax base.
Lea's motion to table the item failed for lack of a second. When the vote was called, new Commissioner Craig Kennedy joined Picerno, Melton and Caddell in voting in favor of the original motion by Melton to approve the plan.
Information supplied by Brobst shows that the county has identified a funding source to cover the estimated $410,000 needed from the public utilities fund. This money comes from repayment for the Pinehurst water tower, an item included in the recent limited obligation bond issue.
The plan now goes to Carolina Eye Associates for approval, initiating the Rural Center grant process.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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