Town takes on discharge issue

Published 2:48 pm Thursday, January 7, 2010

Staff Writer

CHOCOWINITY — The Chocowinity Board of Commissioners waded into water-quality issues Tuesday night.
The board voted unanimously to accept an engineering study of alternatives for discharging salty water from the town’s Edgewood Drive water-treatment plant.
The vote didn’t constitute acceptance of the alternatives outlined in the report, but it was more a formal nod to acknowledge that the town had done its due diligence in response to state environmental requirements.
A state environmental official made it clear Wednesday that, at some point, the town will have to change the way it disposes of water-treatment byproduct from the Edgewood plant.
“Right now, they’re ahead of the curve,” said Al Hodge, supervisor in the surface water-protection section of the state’s Division of Water Quality offices in Washington.
“We’ve told them that there’s a problem coming, and they’ll likely have an issue with their next permit,” Hodge said. “They’re not technically in noncompliance at this point, but they likely will be.”
Future permits will be in doubt if the town doesn’t change the way it releases brine effluent from the plant, Hodge indicated.
“At some point in the future, we’ll be more involved in their decision-making,” he said, “and our only guidelines in this is the protection of water-quality standards. That’s what we use to make our decisions.”
The board’s vote will allow the town to cover its expenses for the alternatives study with funds from the Rural Economic Development Center, said Mark Garner, vice president of Rivers &Associates, the engineering firm that conducted the study.
The study was commissioned partly in response to a July 24, 2006, letter from Hodge, and subsequent contacts with the state.
The letter shows that the Edgewood Drive facility “discharges a saline effluent into a fresh water environment.”
The engineering report said the discharge point is “an unnamed tributary to Maple Branch,” which is “classified as C-Swamp Nutrient Sensitive Waters in the Tar-Pamlico Basin.”
“The issue here is that they’re not discharging that to salt water,” Hodge told the Daily News late last year. “They’re putting that in a freshwater environment.”
The town was required to consider alternatives for getting rid of the discharge as part of a permit-renewal process, indicated Blaine Humphrey, project manager with Rivers.
A draft renewal permit, which the town has received, contains additional water-testing requirements for the discharge, Humphrey told the board Tuesday.
“We knew that was coming, but didn’t know, I guess, all the constituents that they were going to put in there,” he said.
Just before Tuesday’s vote, Commissioner William Albritton blasted the state for putting the town in the position of confronting disposal alternatives that could cost millions.
Albritton said the town needs to protect the environment, but he added, “There’s got to be a point where man exists.”
He said the “dry ditch” to which the state refers is supposed to be filled with rain water at different points.
“Is the state going to give us a million and a half dollars to do this?” Albritton asked of the alternatives identified by Rivers.
He added, “I’ll answer it for you: No.”
Albritton noted the town has a limited number of water customers — about 1,200, said Jeff Haddock, public works director.
The town budgets around $330,000 in annual revenues from water sales, Albritton said, adding that amount falls well short of the million-plus-dollar figures in the Rivers report.
“If you’re not paying the bill, you don’t care how you get there,” he said.
“Somebody needs to wake up,” Albritton stated. “We need to do something to get a handle on this.”
The commissioner pointed out the fact that Beaufort County is a Tier 1 county, which ranks it among the poorest counties in the state.
“I’m on my bandwagon because this has made me ill,” he said. “Somebody needs to do something because it’s getting out of hand.”
Albritton commended Rivers for its work, emphasizing that his objection was to the state’s requirements.
Garner advised the board to accept the engineering report in order to secure the funding to pay for it.
“Your point, commissioner, is well made,” he told Albritton. “That would be a lobbying effort through the Legislature.”
Asked what funding alternatives might be available to the town, Hodge noted that DWQ isn’t responsible for finding the funds, but he said that other communities are facing similar obstacles in the 21-county region his office serves.
“They’re beating the bushes for everything from stimulus money to any grant funds that they can be applicable for,” Hodge said.
He also said DWQ would give the town time to settle upon a solution.
“It’s not going to be a flick of a light switch, you’ve got to figure it out immediately,” he concluded.