Wastewater project concerns continue

Published 8:22 am Tuesday, August 5, 2014

WINTON – As quickly as one complaint over the still-to-be-completed Tunis wastewater system is resolved, it seems another issue rises anew.

Sunland Builders of Newport fell way behind in the construction of the wastewater/sewer collection system and complaints to the County Manager’s office as well as to members of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners have mounted.

The $2.14 million project’s original timetable calling for construction of the lines, manholes and pumps was to have been completely installed by January 2014 and to have gone online for residents sometime last spring.

Meanwhile, at the Monday Aug. 4 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, County Manager Loria Williams updated the board on a complaint over standing water that existed in one resident’s yard that was resolved by Sunland.

“In speaking with (Hertford County Public Works Director) Mike Bradley as late as Friday, it’s my understanding that Sunland Builders went out there and addressed the issue,” Williams said. “It’s my understanding they’ve all been handled.”

Following Williams’ update the commissioners heard from Tunis landowner Benny Parker, who spoke before the Board about two complaints, the latter of which he directed toward the County Manager.

In the first complaint, Parker alleged that during sewer construction Sunland has “destroyed” property lines on his and other Tunis residents’ property in the area where the system is being installed.

“We do need to get them back in place and properly re-surveyed and back in place so that we can know where our property lines are (located) down there,” Parker said.

Parker said because of growth in the Tunis area, there are properties for sale; sales that have been slowed due to the sewer construction and its subsequent delays.

“We would like for this to be done within a reasonable time frame instead of waiting as people are interested in purchasing some of these properties to build on,” Parker said, “and I can’t sell it until the property lines are squared away.”

Commission chairman William Mitchell told Parker the Board was not in a position to immediate address that concern, but that it would be discussed.

Parker’s second issue was with fees he says he must pay for water taps to be put in on his land parcels; directing these remarks to the County Manager.

“I have sewer taps on properties, but no water taps,” Parker said. “Somehow or another we have the cart before the horse so to speak because I can’t use the sewer until the water has been put in.”

Williams said that neither water nor sewer hook-ups were mandatory.

“If you do not have water and you have sewer, your rate will be based on an estimated utilization,” Williams explained. “That information has been provided at community forums about those folks who are on water and how those bills would be calculated; and those people who were not on water, those bills would be estimated, and one would be based on water.

“It is possible for one to have water and sewer or one or the other,” she said. “The reason you don’t have water, Mr. Parker, is because you did not sign up for it 20-25 years ago during early sign-ups. You could have water at any time, you just have to pay the fair market rate for putting in a tap like anyone else who wants to become a water customer of the (county’s) northern or southern water district.”

Williams said Parker desired the 20-25-year-old early sign-up rate for connection instead of the going rate of $750.

“We did not extend that, we cannot extend that,” she insisted.

Williams said in previous years, grant money covered the full cost, but that period has passed and now the water district is based on user fees 100 percent.

“We don’t have money to extend that,” Williams maintained, “nor would it be fair and equitable.”

Parker compared his property situation with a similar system installed in Bertie County, where a water system was updated to accommodate the new sewer system.

“Here they didn’t do that, they just slapped the sewer system in and went on by you,” Parker said.  “My people can’t use the sewer system until they get water.”

The debate between the two went back-and-forth, with Williams insisting the sewer system would be operational without a water hook-up, and Parker maintaining the water system needed to be upgraded.

Parker admitted he did not own his current property when the original water system was put in.

“It makes no sense to ride down there and see the sewer taps to the lot, but no water,” Parker said. “It should have been a package deal. It don’t take a rocket scientist to realize that.”

Williams countered by saying Parker wants the reduced water connection rate in association with the sewer construction project.

“The sewer (installation) was a necessity,” said Commissioner Curtis Freeman. “This is two different projects.”

Freeman then asked for clarification from County Attorney Charles Revelle.

“Environmental issues forced the installation of the sewer system”, Revelle said. “But as Mrs. Williams said there is a functioning water system already there and anyone who may own lots along Tunis Road, if they want to hook up now, they must pay the tap fee to hook onto the water.”

Parker vowed to continue to investigate.

“I’m being told by other sources it’s been done wrong and you will have to come back and straighten up the water,” Parker maintained.  “So I’m just waiting to find out.”