Wastewater expansion vital to Ahoskie’s growth

Published 11:42 am Saturday, September 5, 2009

AHOSKIE – It was a time of both celebration and reflection.

Thursday morning dignitaries from the local, state and national levels gathered to officially break ground on the new Wastewater Treatment Plant for the town of Ahoskie.

“This has been a long journey that took extreme cooperation from a lot of people,” Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond said. “It is my pleasure to welcome you to this historic event.”

Dan Boone, the project engineer from The Wooten Company, gave a history of the project. He said the town started the current spray field system in the late 1980s with a total of 300 acres which would allow them to spray 900,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day.

In 1998, the Ahoskie wastewater facility was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as the best in Region IV and the second best in the nation.

Boone said the town came under a Special Order of Consent more than 10 years ago and has been operating under it ever since. That SOC proposed a moratorium and restricted some growth in the town.

In July of 2007, The Wooten Company proposed an expansion of the wastewater treatment facility to a new capacity of 1.3 million gallons to be discharged first to Hertford Renewable Energy and then to the Ahoskie Creek. The total cost for the project was over $17 million.

Work began with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development initiative, the Clean Water Trust Fund and the Rural Center to receive grants and a low-interest loan funding for the project.

The project began with the awarding of the bid to T.A. Loving Company last month and is now scheduled for completion in January of 2011.

Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn said she had only been in office for six years and couldn’t speak as well as others about the long history of the project. She said, however, she could talk about the hard work and dedication of the employees of the wastewater treatment plant.

“In my six years, I can speak to the quality of the staff here at the wastewater treatment plant,” Blackburn said. “Stewart White and his staff have always done an excellent job.

“As they have shared their needs with us over the years, the staff has continued to work diligently with what we had,” she added. “I am excited that we will turn this new plant over to very capable hands.”

White, Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent, then spoke about the support his staff had received from the mayor and Ahoskie Town Council.

“I’m proud to be here today,” he said. “I want to thank the Ahoskie Town Council for all they do for town employees and I want to thank the staff here for keeping this place looking so nice.

“It has been a long time coming,” he said of the new plant. “Ahoskie is leading the way. I have been told that by several people concerning this plant.”

White also commended the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) for their understanding and helpfulness during the process.

Ahoskie Mayor Pro-Tempore Ronald Gatling admitted he stood before the group with mixed feelings.

“I’m kind of surprised I was asked to speak,” Gatling mused. “I’ve called everyone here all kinds of names at some point in this process. I’ve questioned the staff, The Wooten Company, DWQ and everyone else.

“I stand here with mixed emotions because of knowing this is necessary, but I am also mindful of the burden that it puts on our taxpayers,” he said. “It took a long time, but we finally got serious about it four years ago and here we are.”

North Carolina State Senator Ed Jones (D-4th) said making tough decisions were part of the job and he commended the Ahoskie Town Council for moving forward with the plant.

“Decisions have been made today that will be beneficial to the generations to come,” he said. “The nay-sayers of today will be applauding us tomorrow.”

Representative Annie W. Mobley (D-5th) said she was pleased to see so many people coming together to make the project possible.

“The communities must pull together to realize a project like this,” she said.

Rep. Mobley also commended the late Representative Howard J. Hunter Jr. and late Senator Robert L. Holloman for their work in making sure Ahoskie could build the wastewater treatment plant.

“We can only say thank you and give credit to the Almighty for the realization of this project,” Rep. Mobley closed.

Also speaking was Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-1st) who praised the work of the USDA Rural Development office and what is happening in Ahoskie.

“Before I got to Washington, D.C. I didn’t appreciate the work of USDA Rural Development,” the Congressman said. “It is important in the life of eastern North Carolina.

“There is a USDA Rural Development office in every state and I’m told that we have the best one in the United States of America,” Congressman Butterfield said. “They have a non-partisan track record. I want to thank USDA for making this loan available to the town of Ahoskie.”

He also said he understood the wastewater treatment facility would cause some burden for the taxpayers.

“We have to provide infrastructure, but we also have to provide new jobs to help people,” he said.

Richard E. Rogers Jr. of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund also spoke about his agency’s excitement to be part of the project.

“This is a project that is innovative and that supports and protects surface waters in North Carolina,” Rogers said. “It also protects the Chowan River, which we must continue to do.”

Betty Jo Shepheard, a representative from the office of U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), was also on hand for the ground breaking.

“I offer you congratulations on behalf of Senator Burr,” she said.

Shepheard also said she appreciated the work of USDA Rural Development in helping fund the project and called Ahoskie officials as leaders in the region.

Offering congratulations on behalf of the Rural Center was Robert Partin.

“We’re pleased to be able to be part of this program,” he said. “The Rural Center is here to help communities in need.”

After speaking about the project, the gathered dignitaries broke ground on the project.