Tunis referendum on tap for Tuesday

Published 10:56 am Monday, January 31, 2011

WINTON – Will years of environmental concerns come to an end in the village of Tunis?

That question will be answered Tuesday by those living in this tiny community tucked on the shores of the Chowan River.

The decision to invest over $2 million into a sanitary sewer district for the Tunis community rests in the hands of the voters. Registered voters with full-time Tunis addresses will cast ballots “for” or “against” the Tunis Sewer District Bond Referendum.

Those choosing to take part in this decision-making process can cast a ballot between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Cofield Precinct (Cofield Town Hall). At stake is whether or not general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $400,000 will be issued for the purpose of the design and construction of a sanitary system that will collect, treat and dispose of sewage.

If the measure is approved, that bond money will be combined with a $1.225 million grant from the Rural Development arm of the United States Department of Agriculture and a $500,000 grant from the NC Rural Center to provide the lion’s share of constructing a $2,068,300 sewage treatment system.

It remains uncertain whether or not mandatory hook-ups will be required to the sewer system if the referendum is approved. Preliminary estimates revealed the system will be designed to meet the requirements to repay the obligation bonds through user fees. Should that not occur upon the final design of the system, the county has other avenues to generate funds for bond repayment.

Hertford County officials reminded those taking part in this referendum that only full-time residents of Tunis can cast a ballot. Since the community is a popular “second home” or vacation home due to its location to the Chowan River, there are property owners there whose full-time residence is not within the planned area of the sanitary sewer service.

If the referendum fails, the county will be forced to surrender the $1.7 million in grant funding. Based upon the current state of finances in its budget, Hertford County cannot afford to act alone on providing a sanitary sewer district for Tunis.

Over the years, Tunis residents have experienced problems with private septic systems; some did not have one at all, rather “straight piping” raw sewage into inappropriate containers and hauling it offsite. Those environmental concerns were discovered in the spring of 2008, prompting the State of North Carolina to issue notices of violation against some Tunis residents using the “straight piping” method.

Additionally, environmental health personnel also learned in 2008 there were existing septic systems too close to the water, meaning they do not meet setback requirements for sewer systems.

While Hertford County officials devised a plan to alleviate these environmental concerns, Tunis residents were granted “pump-and-haul” permits by the state. That means they are placing certain types of holding containers into the ground, and then certified pumping technicians go in and remove the waste. That solution was deemed as temporary until the county could come up with enough funds to install a sewer system for the entire community.

While the grant/loan will pay the upfront construction costs, the sewer district will require long-term operational and maintenance costs. Those costs (user fees) will be paid for by Tunis residents.

According to Hertford County Manager Loria Williams, the Tunis Sewer District will be treated similar to the county’s Northern and Southern Rural Water Districts. User fees will be paid for by those using the system, not by all Hertford County citizens.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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