Filling the gap

Published 8:22 am Thursday, July 24, 2014

GATESVILLE – Gates County officials are seeking to fill a $686,200 gap left in the wake of a re-design for the Wastewater Treatment Facility project.

At their recent meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners received news that the process is underway to seek funds from the state and federal level to cover the increased costs that are estimated for the project.

In June, the Commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, approved a measure to add $686,200 to an ongoing project that provides sewer and wastewater treatment to an area along US 158 between Central Middle School and Eason’s Crossroads, to include Merchant’s Commerce Center.

The additional money will come evenly ($343,100 each) from the county’s general fund and water fund.

At the June meeting several commissioners inquired about the possibility of applying for grants to either fully or partially cover the cost overruns. Those inquiries were answered earlier this month when William H. Dixon, representing Municipal Engineering Services, the firm under contract for the Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion, gave the board an update on the engineering services to date, to include possible funding sources.

Dixon read a portion of an email his firm received from the North Carolina Department of Commerce (DOC), saying that an extension to apply for CDBG funding has been extended for GatesCounty.

Dixon also shared news that Industrial Development funds were available (per approval of an application).

“However, these types of funds have never before been used in support of a healthcare company,” Dixon said, referencing an assisted living facility planned for Merchants Commerce Center that will tap into the county’s sewer system. “Typically those funds are for industrial and manufacturing projects, but the Department of Commerce is willing to consider the project here in Gates County.”

If DOC does allow Gates County to proceed with applying for industrial funding, Dixon said county officials can request the difference between the project’s current budget less the original budget.

“That is because the cost overrun is attributed to a re-design of Phase 1 of this project,” Dixon said, adding that he expects a decision from DOC by the end of July.

Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens asked Dixon would it be beneficial if the county sent a letter to DOC citing the need for funding. Owens additionally inquired of having the same type of support letter sent from Gates County’s representatives to the NC House of Representatives and NC Senate.

“I don’t see where a letter from the Commissioners would be a problem; to answer the second part, that is always a political decision; sometimes that works out well and sometimes it does not work all that well,” Dixon replied. “I don’t know which way to advise you (on the second request).”

Dixon said it typically takes two to four weeks for the Industrial Funding arm of the DOC to review applications. If approved, funding could be released in as early as two weeks.

Owens asked if there was a county match to those funds. Dixon replied that he did not know, but would find out that information.

Dixon added that the Golden Leaf Foundation (another possible funding source for this new money needed to offset the extra funds approved by the Commissioners to cover the cost of the re-design) has granted a temporary extension to Gates County to apply for money upon the approval of permits submitted to DENR.

Commission Chairman Henry Jordan noted yet another possible funding source – the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The total project, which includes work already completed in Phase 1 (installation of sewer lines, lift stations and pump stations), is now estimated at $3,607,695.25. To date, the county has been awarded $2.15 million in grant funding ($900,000 from the EDA; $700,000 from the NC Rural Center; $350,000 from CDBG; and $200,000 from the Golden Leaf Foundation).

It was explained at the June meeting of the commissioners of the cost overruns on some of the project’s line-by-line items and cost savings on others. The savings come in the form of legal work on the project ($5,200), engineering costs ($68,300 under the projections) and $6,800 in advertising costs.

On the flip side, the grant planning and administration costs increased by $19,500 over the original budget; construction costs are up by $547,000 and the land acquisition (57 acres needed to expand the treatment plant’s sprayfield) is $200,000….money that was not included in the original budget for the project (it was built into the construction costs).

That led to total cost overruns at $766,500. By subtracting the savings, it left a $686,200 hole to fill.

Also at this month’s meeting, Dixon gave an update on the Wastewater Treatment Plant project, saying that the area’s topography map is completed, and the soil science evaluation crew was expected to be on site the first week of July.

“In the next couple of weeks we should be able to give you a pretty good idea of what the soil’s capacity should be (the sprayfield application rate),” Dixon said.

He added that the only possible hold-up would be if the evaluation of the soil led to a need to do additional “modeling” at the site.

“That may delay us a little bit; right now we’re still on schedule for the first of August to get everything submitted to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR),” Dixon said.

The current sewer/wastewater system owned and operated by the county now serves Gates County High School, Central Middle School, Gates County Community Center, NC DOT facility, and the newly opened Gates County Emergency Management Center (at the old prison), the Gates County Public Library and State Employees Credit Union’s branch office.

That plant is at 80 percent capacity, causing the state to require Gates County officials to have a contingency plan for future growth. That contingency included the purchase of a new sprayfield.

The original project budget was at $2,527,450, which included $1.42 million just for the wastewater treatment plant, ownership of which was transferred to the county by the state. That plant was constructed years ago to serve the now closed Gates County Correctional Center.

“We basically inherited a mess there and we’re now trying to fix it up,” said then Gates County interim Manager Ken Windley in June, adding that DENR did not like the slope of the land at the plant.

Windley later told Roanoke-Chowan Publications that the wastewater treatment plant, when transferred to county ownership, was rated at being able to handle 25,000 gallons per day (gpd).

“Apparently, DENR had not inspected that plant recently and when they did they lowered the capacity to 15,000 gpd,” he noted. “Once we complete the treatment plant project and make all the improvements there, to include purchasing 57 acres of land to expand the sprayfields (to which treated wastewater is applied), we’re hopeful that it will be rated at 50,000 gpd per DENR’s approval.”

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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