need to cooperate
Belhaven has a problem.
Belhaven has a serious problem. So do residents in unincorporated parts of Beaufort County who don’t have access to a sewage-treatment system.
We need to find a win-win situation for both groups.
Belhaven officials have to come to grips with the fact that the network of pipes that carries raw sewage to their treatment plant is old and in need of replacement. The pipes were old and in need of replacing last year. They were old and needed replacing 10 years ago. The problem simply won’t go away. In fact, it’s getting worse.
County Manager Paul Spruill called the issue “a 50-year-old problem” that the current Belhaven council has inherited.
The time to point fingers and assign blame is over. Belhaven and Beaufort County no longer have that luxury. It’s time for leaders to roll up their sleeves and come up with solutions.
Belhaven officials made one stab at a solution this month when they slapped a moratorium on any new county customers connecting to the system until they can fix the problems in town.
The problem lies with leaks in the lines that allow stormwater to infiltrate the distribution lines when it rains. That combination of water and sewage overloads the system. Belhaven customers create about 400,000 gallons of sewage a day, but when it rains and water flows in through the cracks in the pipes, there are more than 1 million gallons a day reaching the sewage treatment plant. The result is sewage and water overflow through manhole covers in town.
Beaufort County is trying to help. The county recently sought funding to extend sewer lines to the Pantego area — a $3.2 million project. The county did so because people on septic tanks are having problems, and connecting to an existing sewer system is one way to fix it.
But from where Belhaven officials sit, those 174 new customers were just making a bad situation worse. As town leaders, they’re elected to look after the best interest of people in the town, and that’s what they were doing when they slapped the moratorium on new hook-ups.
So, where do we go from here?
One option would be to build a new sewer main — bypassing the existing aging infrastructure — that would take the waste from new county customers directly to the sewage treatment facility. It wouldn’t cure Belhaven’s problems in town, but it wouldn’t make the situation any worse.
It’s that kind of project that Spruill is trying to make happen. The county is looking at a $500,000 grant through the Rural Center, but that would still leave the county $700,000 short of the $1.2 million price tag.
Belhaven has the power to reject the bypass plan, but doing so won’t fix Belhaven’s problems and it will add to the woes of county residents who are in peril because of failing septic systems and the lack of other options.
If eastern Beaufort County is to grow, the availability of water and sewer services is a must. Belhaven is the obvious choice when it comes to providing sewer services. The county doesn’t need to be in the business of building and operating a treatment plant unless it simply has to do that.
The Belhaven situation is one that won’t have a quick or easy fix. That’s where leadership comes in. With everybody pulling together, Belhaven should be able to deal with the aging infrastructure and provide services to new customers in the county.