10/03/06 — Duplin weighs plan for sewer

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Duplin weighs plan for sewer

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 3, 2006 1:52 PM

Duplin County commissioners took a big step toward the creation of a county-wide sewer system at their meeting Monday.

The commissioners agreed to direct the county Planning Department and the county Board of Economic Develop-ment to seek engineering proposals on how to get a central system started.

"This is one of the most important moves the county can make," Commissioner David Fussell said.

The vote came after discussion on how best to bring sewer service to various sections of the county. Commissioners are already working on a county-wide water system. Sewer, they noted, is a more complicated and expensive issue, but one that they agreed is crucial to the county's economic future.

"I believe that similar to the water, you're in a situation now where you need to make a decision on a sewage system. It's occurring, and it's a matter of what role you're going to play," Van Lewis, a consulting engineer with McDavid Associates, told the commissioners.

Lewis said that currently a county-wide sewer system is not feasible, but that local infrastructure serving more densely populated areas and strategic corridors might be possible. Such a solution would require a regional partnership with municipalities already operating wastewater treatment plants, he said.

Woody Brinson, the executive director of the county's Board of Economic Development, said Duplin cannot afford to fall behind in the race to bring sewer to the county. He pointed to sewer services being installed both north and south of the county.

With the groundbreaking of its new facility last week, Mount Olive will soon have the capacity to serve northern Duplin County as far south as Calypso. Wallace already has contracted two million gallons of its sewer capacity to Pender County.

"We've lost seven years. We don't need to lose any more time. We need to move forward with haste," Brinson said.

The commissioners agreed to "accept the leadership role to ensure the orderly development of sewer within the county."

Earlier, discussion of expanding water service dominated the meeting.

Lynn Hardy, executive director of Carolina East Home Care and Hospice, explained to commissioners the need for water lines to be run to the company's new facility -- the Milford and Reba Quinn Hospice Care Center.

It's a project that's been in the works for about two years, and now, Hardy said, the only remaining obstacle is a guarantee of county water.

"Before we can access our loan from USDA we need a letter saying we will have public water," she told the commissioners. "We're ready to go, but we can do nothing without it. We're ready to take the plans to USDA and bid it out."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has promised a $100,000 grant and a $1.1 million loan for the $2 million project. Another $1.6 million has been raised in private contributions and pledges by the non-profit organization for the six-bed facility.

But starting construction on the facility is quickly becoming an urgent matter.

"Every month we're delayed and cannot start construction, it's just going to cost us more to do it," said Gray Morgan, co-chairman of Carolina East's capital fund project. "We can't continue to delay the construction process because it will eat us alive if we do."

The problem for the county, however, is finding money to install the water lines, which would have to be run from the intersection of N.C. 11 and N.C. 24. Approximately 1.4 miles of eight- to 12-inch pipe would have to be installed.

The money for such a project is not in the county's budget and grant money is scarce, officials said.

"I don't know where there's any money. I've tried and tried and we just keep striking out," Brinson said. "There's just not as many grant programs as there used to be. We've turned over every stone."

The obstacle, he explained, is that even though the facility is expected to create between 10 and 20 new jobs, most grant money is available only for for-profit businesses - and currently none exist along the N.C. 24 Bypass in Kenansville. Of course, Brinson continued, it's hard to attract them without the necessary water and sewer infrastructure, which the town of Kenansville is expected to run.

"It's the whole chicken and egg theory," Brinson said.

But the commissioners promised they would try to find the money.

"Let's do whatever we need to do to get it done," Commissioner Arliss Albert-son said.

"I look at this as economic development. I think in helping the facility we'll be helping ourselves in the long run," Commissioner Reginald Wells added.

A decision on the letter was tabled until the commissioners' Oct. 16 meeting, after an infrastructure study by engineering firm McDavid Associates of Farmville will be completed.