09/12/13 — Eureka tells county about crippling sewer issues at meeting

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Eureka tells county about crippling sewer issues at meeting

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 12, 2013 1:46 PM

Eureka town residents are paying premium rates for sewer service because of a botched sewer system project that has left the town facing the real danger of going broke in the near future, town officials said Wednesday.

The costly sewer problem, the lack of a law enforcement presence, old buildings that need to be condemned and demolished, and the scarcity of land available for possible economic development were issues the town board brought to its Wednesday lunch meeting with Wayne County commissioners at Lane Tree Golf Club.

The session was the latest in a series of meetings that commissioners are holding with each of the county's seven municipalities. Up next is the Seven Springs Town Board tonight at 6 p.m. at the Seven Springs Restaurant. The meetings are open to the public.

"We did not bring an agenda," County Commission Chairman Steve Keen said. "We just came to get to know you and for you to know us."

The county is working on comprehensive land use plan and it is important for county officials to know what is going on inside the county's municipalities, Keen said.

Eureka, a town of only 190 people in northeastern Wayne County, is paying nearly $25,000 a month to send its sewage for treatment by the town of Fremont, Mayor Doug Booth said. The cost has forced the town to dip into its general fund and to cash in CDs, he said.

A Raleigh lawyer, whom town officials say also is costly, has been hired to pursue legal action against the company that did the project.

"The company did substandard work," Eureka Commissioner Billy Davis said. "That is why we can't afford anything."

After the $1 million to $1.5 million project was completed, the condition of the sewer system was no better than it was before the work, Booth said.

The problem is inflow and infiltration that allows rain and groundwater into the system. Once that happens, the water has to be treated, thereby driving up the volume and the cost.

Having infrastructure, such as sewer, is normally attractive to new residents, both residential and commercial, but in Eureka's case that is offset by the high rates, town officials said.

With the BB&T bank branch closing last month, there are only two businesses left in town, a cafe and convenience store, and most of the town's residents are retired or elderly, Booth said.

He explained that while they would like to see more development in the town, there is little property available.

Keen asked if there were any old buildings that could be taken down to open space for development.

There is one area near town hall that would be suitable, if the owners would be willing to sell, Booth said.

However, convincing property owners to sell could be an issue, he said.

Commissioner Ray Mayo asked if the town board had considered meeting with the property owners and appealing to their civic pride.

The board needs to convince the owners to make a commitment to sell the property should a developer make contact with the town, he said.

Booth said he knew three or four property owners and that maybe he could arrange a meeting.

Commissioners also encouraged the town to seek help from the Eastern Carolina Council.

County Manager Lee Smith and commissioners said there is strength in numbers and suggested that Eureka join forces with Fremont and Pikeville to form a region within the county to focus on common issues among them.

Town board members said they also are concerned about several old buildings that need to be demolished.

The town relies on the county for inspections because it does not have an inspections department.

Davis said the town had contacted the county months ago about the buildings, but had yet to hear anything.

Smith said he had sent a sample ordinance for the town to consider. The town needs to have such an ordinance in place so the county can assist it, he said.

Another concern is the lack of law enforcement in Eureka, town board members said, explaining that the town eliminated its police department about five years ago in a budget-cutting move.

For a while the town paid off-duty sheriff's deputies, but that, too, was stopped because of the cost.

Town commissioners said they realize the county is large, but that they seldom see sheriff's deputies in their community -- a concern that received little response from county commissioners.