Stimulate eastern N.C. with roads, sewers

Published 4:59 am Friday, February 20, 2009

By Staff
As the federal stimulus package is carved up, like steaks from a side of beef, eastern North Carolina — and Beaufort County in particular — ought to get a substantial cut.
There are basic projects needed here that have previously established track records and would seriously boost the standard of living and economic fortunes of the area.
At a county level, our officials are hoping we can upgrade our water and sewer service and refurbish Highway 17 along the way. If they succeed, they’ll stimulate the economy twice: once when people are hired to build the infrastructure and again when more businesses are lured here because of the positive changes.
Avoiding sewage backing up in town — a possibility if Belhaven’s California Street lift station fails — doesn’t reduce anyone’s carbon footprint or herald a new industrial era.
It does, though, maintain a certain standard of livability that many Americans in richer, more urban areas than ours might take for granted. It’s a standard that is essential to attracting new companies. Sewage projects in Chocowinity and Washington are also on our county’s list and would help us grow.
Other areas are pushing for high-speed rail and green energy. They are, no doubt, technologies that will be important into the future, but in some cases, they’re unproven on a wide scale and are competing against other types of traditional technology.
Our region might do well with green energy, but given the choice between working toilets or an ethanol plant, you can guess what most people would prefer.
Indeed, an ethanol plant might not want to locate here if there’s no sewage capacity available. And another draw for such a plant would be a better north-south highway.
The cost of building a new highway or refurbishing the existing one has been the main problem so far. We are stuck with U.S. Highway 17 as it is — a cracked and bleached two-lane road — to connect us to New Bern and the ports of Wilmington and Norfolk.
Some of the $735 million earmarked to our state in the stimulus package for highway and bridge projects would be well spent on widening that road.
The county also hopes to get some money to spend on new water tanks. It has a clear use for the tanks: They’ll improve the process by which the county treats drinking water, and they seem unlikely to fall out of vogue or encounter technical problems.
We know sewers aren’t glamorous, and a four-lane highway isn’t novel, but they work: They make people’s lives reliably better and help attract businesses.
As this federal cash cow gets milked, we hope we’ll get some traditional improvements and maybe more innovative ones that together will solidify us well into the future.