Water to flow northward

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Commissioners move forward with drinking-water plan

Faced with a growing number of customers for drinking water and limited supplies of that water, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners on Monday moved forward with a plan to meet that demand and increase the water supply available to its customers.

The commissioners voted 6-1 to spend $300,000 for engineering and planning costs needed for the county to qualify for $6 million in loans and grants from the N.C. Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to bring drinking water from the south side of the Pamlico River to its customers on the north side of the river.

Commissioner Jay McRoy cast the sole dissenting vote, saying the plan would unfairly penalize customers in the Chocowinity/Richlands Township water district.

McRoy also said the project ignores the need — identified during Hurricane Irene — for generators that could be used to provide power to the county’s water-treatment plant near Chocowinity in the event of an emergency.

“We’ve got to put generators over there,” he said.

Last year, the county applied for grant and loan funds from the state revolving fund that could be used to pay for increasing the capacity of the Chocowinity treatment plant and build a pipeline to supply about 600,000 gallons of drinking water per day to customers north of the river.

“This water would replace the water you’re buying from the City of Washington,” said Vann Lewis, an engineer with McDavid Associates Inc., which is overseeing the project.

The county has seen nearly a 16-percent increase in the number of its drinking-water customers since 2005, with 12,037 customers getting their drinking water from the county in 2011 as compared with 10,394 customers in 2005, according to county figures.

Most of the increase has come from 1,177 new customers, or an increase of about 17 percent, on the north side of the Pamlico River in county water districts that are supplied drinking water from the city’s drinking-water plant.

That trend is continuing in 2012, county leaders said.

A combination of grants and loans from the fund would provide $1.495 million for upgrades to the county’s drinking-water treatment plant near Chocowinity and $3 million for pipes to transfer the water to districts north of the river, county leaders have said.

“The City of Washington water-treatment plant on peak days reaches capacity,” Curtis Jett, supervisor of the county’s water department, told the board. The county needs “an alternative treatment plant on the north side of the river.”

The project also would address concerns that county leaders have expressed about serving its customers from a single source — the city’s treatment plant — that could be interrupted by a disaster.

The project will help the city extend the life of its treatment plant by reducing demand on that plant, the commissioners were told.

During its meeting Monday, the Washington City Council approved the county’s request regarding its water districts. Councilman Doug Mercer expressed concerns about locating a pipeline near the city’s existing electrical transmission lines that cross the Tar River, noting that damage to those lines could leave the city without power.

In December, the county was notified that grant and loan applications were being considered for funding if the state was notified by May 31 that the project was “ready to proceed.”

To meet that requirement, the county must submit final construction plans and specifications and receive the necessary permits and obtain the needed right-of-way from property owners to build the pipeline, among other work, Lewis told the board.

The money appropriated by the commissioners Monday will be paid to McDavid Associates Inc. for the project to be “ready to proceed” by the deadline.

It will be reimbursed from loan and grant funds if the application is approved. If it is not approved, the county’s water districts will share in its costs, the commissioners agreed.

In related matters, the commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of a new Ford F-150 pickup truck at a cost of about $14,000 for the water department and the purchase of two automated water replacement valves for a county pump station at a cost of about $30,000.

All commissioners attended the meeting.