11/27/09 — Town, county leaders discuss sewer

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Town, county leaders discuss sewer

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 27, 2009 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The three county commissioners whose districts include Mount Olive met with Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. and Town Manager Charles Brown on Tuesday to talk about how the town may be able to help the county with sewer treatment -- possibly including a sewer line for Grantham School.

The News-Argus was refused admittance to the hour-long meeting. However, after it was over, Brown spoke about the meeting.

Since there was not a quorum of either governing body, it was not considered a public meeting and as such did not fall under the state's Open Meetings Law.

Commission Chairman Bud Gray and County Manager Lee Smith said they were unaware of the meeting between the town officials and At-large Commissioner Sandy McCullen, District 2 Commissioner J.D. Evans and District 4 Commissioner Steve Keen.

Brown said he could not speak as to why Gray or Smith had not been told of the meeting.

"I have no idea," Brown said. "I cannot answer that question."

Brown said he would not call the discussions "a negotiation."

McDonald said he had initiated the meeting and had closed it to the newspaper because it was just a "brainstorming" session on issues not ready to be made public.

"It was just a meeting to brainstorm about Mount Olive offering to the southern end of the county that we have a new sewer plant and we want everybody to know that it's at the disposal of the people of the southern end of the county," he said. "We have enough capacity to handle the southern end of the county, and we want them to know that."

McDonald said he recently spoke to a commissioner, whom he didn't identify.

"He said, 'Why don't we get the commissioners that have a connection to Mount Olive and talk to them and see.' We can't get anywhere if they are not for it. I said, 'We are not trying to start anything. We just want you to know where we stand. We want to offer to you all anything that you can hook on to us, we want to treat it.' That is where we are."

Gray said since he didn't know about the meeting he couldn't make a comment.

Asked if it was normal procedure for the commission chairman or county manager not to be advised of such a meeting, Gray said he didn't know.

"I wouldn't think it was," he said. "They will have to call use before we vote on any money won't they? I don't know anything about it. It does appear they would contact the chairman or manager."

"As far as protocol, typically what happens is, granted commissioners all have their separate meetings as individuals, but typically it has been our experience that the board member will call the chairman and set up a meeting," Smith said. "I am just not sure how this was organized. If it (meeting) was put together by town, then it was the town's choice how to do it."

Smith said the Grantham School sewer line has been discussed off and on as long as he has been manager, about eight years.

"I have heard discussions of a sewer line and a need of one in Grantham for the school," he said. "The existing school is on a septic tank that works fairly well."

Smith said he asked consultant Tyndall Lewis several years ago to provide a preliminary engineering report and estimates for a pressurized sewer line to Goldsboro. Later when working to get a sewer line to Georgia-Pacific at Dudley, Smith said he thought it might be time to look at a north-south sewer connection and sharing sewer resources.

The sewer line has been discussed by the school board. However, Smith said he does not think it is among the school board's top priorities.

Such a project would cost more than $2.5 million, he said. The line would serve the school and possibly some commercial customers. It would not be for residential developments.

"When you build a pressurized line, you want a sufficient size line, but the problem is you have to have volume or you can have sewer go through the line and become septic, which is a real problem. You then have to pump large amounts of water into it to make it work, but that can be detrimental to sewer system in terms of treatment."

He added that the Utilities Committee has urged the county's water districts to work together to create a master water and sewer plan that has been championed by Commissioner Andy Anderson for years.

Smith said the county is "not really in the (sewer) business," but that improvements in Mount Olive and Goldsboro could open the door to sharing resources.

"As you know we are in the process of wrapping up the completion of a $13.5 million wastewater treatment expansion," Brown said. "That plant was designed in mind with it being a regional facility."

A sewer line to Grantham School was "part of the discussion" Brown said.

"That would not be our determination," he said. "Mount Olive, we can't go out and put the line in place or make the decision on where the line needs to go, but we are here willing and able to accept the sewer flow wherever they want to bring it to us from. Some players are going to have to come to the table for that which would include obviously the school board, county commissioners and the water districts.

"It is going to take a cooperative effort, but I don't think anybody is going to want to go out and build a new sewer plant because we have the facility here. We simply wanted to make (the commissioners) aware and be sure that they understood that we welcome the sewer flow should they bring it to us. The town is willing to treat the flow. It is beyond our jurisdiction where line would go and who would tie into it."

The county would have to pay for the line, he said.

It would remain to be worked out as to who would bear the financial responsibility of maintaining such a line.

The impetus for discussing the issue now is that there is "a lot" of stimulus money available, Brown said.

The preliminary engineering report was completed years ago at Smith's request, he added.

"The next step, depending on which direction everybody wants to go, would be to do the actual PER, do environmental studies and go from there to get the necessary permitting done," Brown said. "That is not our decision to make. Our only involvement in the decision is that if they bring it to us we will treat it. We would welcome the additional revenue."