Wastewater treatment: Q&A

Published 10:09 am Friday, November 11, 2011

GATESVILLE – Gates County officials have been peppered with questions as they move forward with several capital improvement projects in the county.

To learn more about the need for these projects, the Gates County Index arranged for a meeting with Board of Commissioners Chairman Graham Twine, Vice Chairman Kenneth Jernigan and County Manager Toby Chappell. That two-hour meeting covered questions and answers regarding the new library, the takeover and expansion of the wastewater treatment facility along US 158, the planned renovation of the county’s historic courthouse and other “talking points.”

The second in this series of articles deals with the takeover and expansion of an existing wastewater treatment facility along US 158


Taking the Kim Old development (Merchants Commerce Center) out of the picture, would the county still have chosen to proceed with its wastewater treatment plant project? If so, on what scale?

Twine: “The wastewater system is already there and our county is using it. The state abandoned it (Gates County Correctional Institute), but we still have the high school, the middle school and the community center still hooked in to that system.”

Chappell: “Even if the commissioners didn’t want economic development, which they do, we had to get into the sewer business because we have to maintain service to the two schools and the community center.”

Twine: “The other option would be going back and building individual septic systems for those three. We didn’t see that as an option.”

Chappell: “If we have to be in the sewer business anyway, by choice or not, and we want economic development, wouldn’t it be smart to marry the two together. Sewer has been the key piece of infrastructure that has stopped Gates County’s economic development for many years. It can be debated on whether that particular area is the ideal place to start. But, if you have that as the only place that will have the population density, and you have to provide that service anyway to your schools, and you’re going to have a mixed-use development out there, why wouldn’t you pursue that. That seems to me to be the logical choice of areas to start.”

Twine: “When we started the project we received a (Golden Leaf) grant to perform a feasibility study for sewer. Originally that study looked at the Tar Heel area (US 13). This (Kim Old) project came along and the study showed this area (US 158) as the only one that would be feasible to move forward on.”


What is the projected cost for this sewer project and what grants are being sought by the county to help offset those costs?

Chappell: “That will have to be competitively bid before we know the cost right down to the exact penny. We’re looking at a number between $2.5 and $3 million. The grants we have in hand are $900,000 from the EDA (Economic Development Administration) and $700,000 from the North Carolina Rural Center. We have been invited to submit an application for the second round of Golden Leaf funding for $300,000 and we’ve already submitted the paperwork to CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) for $500,0000. If they are approved that gives us $2.4 million for this project. There’s $500,000 from the (North Carolina) Industrial Development Fund that we’ll be seeking in the coming months. Even if we receive all these grants, the county will still have to expend some of its own money as some of the grants require local matches. If we can get a $3 million system and it costs us a couple hundred thousand of our own money, that’s a deal. Plus with the project commercial growth, that keeps sales tax dollars in our county rather than losing that money to neighboring counties.”


Are there any plans to expand this wastewater project beyond its current scope?

Chappell: “There are no current plans on paper, but most definitely there are thoughts about expansion. There could be advantages for us to expand this project to Eason’s Crossroads or further towards Eleanor’s Crossroads or extending it down 158 and connecting Gatesville. If a larger industry comes in and needs to be on a sewer system, we can put them on one side or the other (from the current development) and run sewer to them. It’s a lot easier to do that when you already have a wastewater treatment system in place.”

Twine: “If Gatesville was to come in, that’s another plus and another avenue to open up even more economic development opportunities. The first thing we had to do was upgrade the old prison treatment facility from 25,000 gallons per day to 50,000. There is a contingency plan in place to take it to 100,000 gallons of capacity should the need arise.”


What if another big developer wants to develop property for commercial and residential use along US 13? Would the county look at offering sewer service in that area?

Chappell: “If the math works I wouldn’t oppose it.”

Twine: “The prison that’s now in Hertford County (Rivers Correctional near Winton) was looking at a site right across the river in Gates County but the lack of sewer infrastructure took us out of the running for that and the county, at that time, wasn’t willing to invest in that.”

Chappell: “The feasibility study showed that if one day in the future you want to have countywide sewer you’ll have to isolate it based on population density anywhere in the county.”

Twine: “Down the line there’s a possibility of the county looking at an existing wastewater treatment facility, one already equipped with holding ponds and three acres of spray fields, at a now closed business up in Corapeake. We’re keeping that site on our radar.”


There is contention that Kim Old is using the county, and its wastewater project, to improve the value of his property. What would you say to that?

Twine: “I would encourage anyone who contends that to ride to his property and take a look at how much of his own money he is expending on that development and what the value of the development is now compared to three months ago. Look at what the tax value is now on that property compared to a few months ago. And that’s without wastewater for right now. The money invested there now is all his money. When the tax comes due there again, the value will be based on lot prices and not farm prices. The buildings that will go there will provide tax base for Gates County, that’s the whole idea of that development….to build our tax base. Does all this make his property more valuable, yes. Will the taxes be higher on that developed land, yes.”

Chappell: “The way that question is framed is that Kim Old is looked at as a parasite on the county. That’s not the relationship we have with Mr. Old. We are in a symbiotic relationship. We both benefit if he is successful. He benefits because his land becomes more valuable, that’s great. We benefit because Gates County has new businesses, which puts people to work, and we get to tax those buildings. We also give our citizens commercial/retail opportunities they’re not currently exposed to within the county. We can keep that money within the county by this project being successful. I would say to anyone that disparages Kim Old from being successful, they’re cutting their nose off despite their face. Individual homeowners here are better off if Kim Old is successful because he is generating tax revenue that can be counted on when the commissioners are facing a hard budget decision and they’re weighing whether or not to raise property taxes. They can avoid that situation because the revenue has come in from the Kim Old development that allows them to keep the property tax the same.”


Outside the normal start-up costs for the county to go into the business of wastewater treatment, did you discover other intangible costs that were not originally accounted for, i.e. operating costs, employee training/certification, etc?

Chappell: “No, everything was accounted for up front. I’ll give that credit to Cavanaugh & Associates (the architectural/engineering firm hired by the county to guide them into owning and operating a sewer treatment system). They did a good job of preparing us for what we would see, what we had to have. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that we weren’t pre-alerted to.”

Twine: “We did our homework and hired a professional to help us with this type of infrastructure. We’re not sewer people. It doesn’t make sense for Toby, myself and all the commissioners to think we know everything about wastewater. We used Cavanaugh because that’s what they specialize in, wastewater treatment plants. It was money well spent to get us to this point and for our future.”


There is contention among current users of the Gates County public water system that they will have to pay for the sewer system. Is this true?

Twine: “The sewer and water will become one entity, a public utility. Cost wise the money will co-mingle.”

Chappell: “We’ve heard the rumors. We’ve heard this will become a dire situation where people won’t be able to eat because water bills are going to be so astronomically high. Let’s talk facts here. An average household uses 2,000 gallons of water per month….again I’m talking averages here, there are some farmers that use more than that while a single person uses less. Right now the customers of the county’s water system pay a $10 fee per month that covers the first 1,000 gallons and then there is a $2 fee per each 1,000 gallons thereafter. What everyone will pay, on average, in increased water bills, under one of the two scenarios presented to the commissioners by Cavanaugh, is $1 per month….$12 per year. The $10 monthly base fee will remain the same. This scenario increases the next 1,000-gallon fee from $2 to $3 per month. That’s it. This is not a break-the-bank, gloom and doom fee increase. If you are not on the sewer system, you pay nothing, zero dollars for sewer. Those on the sewer system will be paying a significant amount for that service, plus a hook-up fee and an impact fee.”

Next in the series: Saving the old courthouse



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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