Tunis sewer project set to begin

Published 8:22 am Wednesday, May 8, 2013

WINTON – After years of waiting for a solution to their sewer woes, residents of a small community located on the Chowan River will finally see the soil begin to turn on a $2.14 million project.

A formal groundbreaking for the Tunis Sewer District will be held at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday at the entrance to the Tunis community off River Road. The groundbreaking will be followed by an informational meeting conducted by Hertford County officials with Tunis residents on what they can expect while the sewer lines are being installed. That meeting will be held at the Closer Walk Ministries in Tunis.

The wait has been long, and sometimes frustrating, for the residents of this quaint community, where traditional family homes are mixed in with seasonal residents, all of whom enjoy the quiet life along the beautiful Chowan River.

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 did not meet setback requirements for such 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.

Those funds were awarded in Sept. of 2010….a $1.225 million grant from the Rural Development arm of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-RD) and a $500,000 grant from the NC Rural Center. The USDA later added another grant for the project, this one for $104,000.

Meanwhile, the county moved forward with a February 2011 Tunis Sewer District Bond Referendum, which was approved by a 32-0 vote of property owners in that community. The approval of that referendum allowed the Hertford County Commissioners to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $400,000 for the purpose of the design and construction of a sanitary system that will collect, treat and dispose of sewage. Those bonds actually came out to $307,000.

Coupled with the USDA and Rural Center grants, the bonds plus $4,600 generated by Tunis property owners (those paying the early tap-on fees), the total project is valued at $2,140,537.

Earlier in the process, the commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Hertford County and the Town of Winton for a centralized sanitary sewer system that will serve the Tunis community.

The scope of the work for the project includes a gravity and low pressure collection system and a main pumping station that will send the sewage to the Winton wastewater treatment plant.

The final hurdle to clear in what is now a two-plus year lead-up to actually beginning construction was that the county satisfy a USDA mandate that the sewer rates would cover the county’s debt on this project.

Those rates have been established and approved by the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, acting as the governing board of the Tunis Sewer District. The rates are based on the amount of monthly water usage from the county’s rural water system. The sewer charge is $51 for the first 2,000 gallons plus $4 for each additional 1,000 gallons. A $50 security deposit is required prior to the service being initially provided.

Those choosing to tap onto the service are required to completely abandon their existing on-site septic systems, according to the rules and regulations ordinance adopted by the District’s governing board. That closure of on-site systems must follow all guidelines of that process set forth by the local health department.

There are regulations within the ordinance that requires some mandatory connections to the Tunis system. That includes those with existing on-site systems located in unsuitable soils as determined by the health department or ones that have failed; newly constructed buildings/structures that are within 200 feet of the system’s lines; and existing on-site systems that are located within 75 feet of the mean water level of the surface waters of the ChowanRiver.

The Tunis Sewer District will be treated similar to the county’s Northern and Southern Rural Water Districts. 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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