Colorful Boats

Kayaks, paddle boards and canoes line the shore of Spring Valley Lake Park in Whispering Pines.

Lakefront property on Spring Valley Lake in Whispering Pines might lose some of its charm for the next year or so now that the village is moving forward with renovating the lake’s dam.

The village council voted on Wednesday to finance and grant contracts for that project as well as a renovation and expansion at the Whispering Pines Fire Rescue Department. The village will use a $2.5 million loan from First Bank to finance both upgrades, which have been long-awaited in Whispering Pines.

The fire department project was originally a companion to the police department renovation completed over a year ago, but the two renovations proved too expensive to complete at the same time.

The village has been planning replacement of the 60-year-old spillway that regulates the flow of water from Spring Valley to Thagard Lake for about five years. Whispering Pines submitted plans for the dam renovation to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality in 2015. Those plans were approved last year.

Originally, the village set aside $500,000 for the Spring Valley project, which involves installing larger culverts in the spillway. But bids that came back once the village received approval from the state were around $1.6 million. So the village council decided to finance the project along with the fire station renovation, which will also add three equipment bays for fire engines now kept outdoors, storage for other equipment, and a fitness area for Whispering Pines’ first responders.

Haren Construction Company of Tennessee was the sole bidder for the Spring Valley dam renovation when the projects were re-bid earlier this year, and the O’Connor Company of NC, Inc. in Aberdeen was the lower of two bids for the fire station expansion.

Village Manager Rich Lambdin said that the Spring Valley dam renovation could begin as early as mid-May, but council members asked him to push for a later start date so that residents can get some use out of the lake this summer.

To repair the dam, the village will draw the lake’s depth down 13 feet. To satisfy current dam safety regulations, about 110 trees will be removed from the slope of the dam along Memorial Causeway. The project will take about seven months to complete, depending on weather conditions.

“We don’t have time to kick this can down the road any more,” Mayor Pro Tem Bob Zschoche said. “The drawdown is not going to start before the end of May, so by the first of June the lake’s only going to be drawn down that much. So if we go through with this schedule and if the contractor does not respond to any of our entreaties to delay … we still have time.”

In other business, the village council discussed additional changes that may yet be in store for Whispering Pines residents getting used to keeping glass out of their curbside recycling.

The village excluded glass from the curbside pickup service as of April 1 but is considering discontinuing recycling services altogether as tipping fees at the county’s transfer sites escalate. On Wednesday, Lambdin briefed council members — and residents who remember when recyclable materials were a valuable commodity — on the factors driving the dilemma faced by municipalities around the country.

Pinehurst and Aberdeen eliminated glass from their recycling pickup services before Whispering Pines did. A sharp decline in the foreign demand for recyclable materials like glass jars and cardboard has minimized the monetary gain involved in collecting it.

“There’s a cost associated with what we used to get paid to do,” Lambdin said. “The materials are lighter than they used to be, and the technology and the labor it takes to sort all this stuff out to make it valuable has gone up and the value of all of these things has gone down.”

Lambdin said it could take up to a year to determine how effective a cost-cutting measure eliminating glass will prove to be. Had Whispering Pines made no changes to its recycling program, its annual tipping fees would have increased from $12,000 to $62,000 based on the weight of the materials collected from residents’ curbs.

“Recycling tends to ebb and flow a little bit so until we have a year of financial billing data to know what the benefits of the glass removal are, we don’t have anything to go by for council to make a decision on what the costs are going to be,” said Lambdin.

Contamination, or trash mixed in with recyclables, is to blame for some of the decline in demand. Contaminated loads require more time and manpower to sort out the valuable material from the trash. Lambdin said that some of the recent recycling loads the village’s contractor collected in the village were nearly 50 percent trash.

“We can ramp up our education efforts and we can try our best to reduce contamination, but there are people that are using the Thursday recycling pickup as nothing more than a second day of household trash, and there’s nothing we can do about that,” he said.

The village council is also crunching the numbers to determine the viability of Whispering Pines managing trash collection in-house.

“What all of these things boil down to is moving the cost incurred from one bucket to another bucket,” said Zschoche. “We the village are analyzing whether or not it would be financially advantageous for public works to take over the function.”

From a financial standpoint, the village would likely pay to dispose of residents’ recyclables one way or another.

“Our tipping fees on our trash would still go up,” Lambdin pointed out. “If we stop recycling altogether, there’s a good possibility that all of the stuff that was going in the recycling is now going to end up in the household waste.”

Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or

Contact Mary Kate Murphy at (910) 693-2479 or

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