Sewer funds are sought

Published 6:24 pm Sunday, September 14, 2014

JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Commissioners has given the green light to a project that will hopefully provide much-needed sewer service to as many as 12 residences on Barrows Mill Road near here.

At their most recent meeting, the Commissioners learned more about the project from Mike Scott, a grant writing and administration consultant. On the county’s behalf, Scott is seeking a $1.1 million CDBG infrastructure grant through the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Those funds may be used to address water and wastewater utility needs as they relate to the benefit of low to moderate income households statewide.

Prior to deciding the direction they wanted to take on this proposed project, the commissioners convened into a public hearing.

“This is a public sewer project for approximately 10 to 12 homes on Barrows Mill Road, of which approximately 80 percent or more are considered to be low or moderate income households,” Scott noted. “Many of these residences are suffering from failing septic tanks that result in health and safety concerns for this community.”

Scott said the project would involve the installation of approximately 9,000 feet of gravity and force-main lines sewer lines that would tie into the Town of Jackson’s wastewater treatment plant. A sewer pump station will also be required as a part of this proposed project.

The budgeted items include $720,831 for construction; $108,125 in contingency funds; $193,000 in engineering services; $13,500 for land acquisition; $103,546 in project administration fees (which would include a preliminary engineering report and an environmental review); and $10,500 for abandoning existing septic tanks at the qualifying households.

Scott noted that the latter expense would be the county’s responsibility. No other county funds would be needed.

“These funds would not have to be budgeted by the county until your 2015-16 budget as there is quite a bit of other work that has to be done before we get to the point of abandoning the septic tanks at those residences,” Scott remarked. “All we need from you now is a commitment to move forward with applying for the CDBG grant.”

Scott said the grant application is due by Oct. 2.

There were no comments made by the public during the hearing.

The commissioners then offered their thoughts on the proposed project. Commissioner Virginia Spruill said there was a previous attempt by the county to land a grant for the same project, but that effort, “ran into some difficulty,” she recalled.

“Is this grant application in the same amount as before,” Spruill inquired.

“Actually it’s more,” Scott replied. “If there’s a silver lining with this it’s that the original application submitted for this same project provided for individual grinder pump stations for sewer at each home. That was the least favorable system that could be designed at that time, given the amount of money available then ($600,000 maximum). Now there’s a maximum of $3 million we can apply for, but that amount is not needed in this case.”

Scott added that the current design of the project is favorable to the county as far as a maintenance and operations standpoint is concerned.

“Grinder pumps work, but they are prone to experience problems,” he said.

Scott said even though the proposed project meets all the CDBG criteria, these types of grant applications come in from all across the state and are very competitive in nature.

“DENR has a scoring system they use to prioritize applications,” he informed the Commissioners. “We’ve looked at this and tried to project how the county would score based on the last two rounds of CDBG grants. Based on that we feel Northampton’s application will be very competitive.”

Commission Vice Chair Fannie Greene asked Scott was the church located in the same community as the qualifying homes included in this project.

“This sewer system would be available for the church to tie onto, but it does not automatically tie them on,” Scott answered. “The way the program works is that only the low to moderate income households are eligible to have this service paid for through this grant. This system is designed to accept the church’s wastewater, but they would have connect to the system at their own costs.”

Scott added there is a pending community meeting with the affected property owners at which time all will be advised of the project.

Commissioner Joe Barrett noted that based on the total price tag of the project, it figures out to $91,583 per household.

“Compare that to other projects you’ve been involved with,” Barrett asked of Scott.

“Obviously, there have been projects where that per household breakdown works out higher and lower,” Scott said. “It’s always expensive to extend sewer to an area not currently served (by that type of infrastructure). There was a sewer project in Tyrrell County, funded in the last CDBG cycle, that cost $2 million for 17 homes.

“The way these projects are scored doesn’t take into account the per household cost; rather the project is scored on does it meet the criteria of need, and does it meet the minimum threshold (51 percent) of low and moderate income households…this one does at 80 percent and the need is there,” Scott added.

Spruill motioned for the approval of a resolution that calls for Scott to proceed with filing an application on Northampton County’s behalf to seek $1,099,000 from DENR to fund the Barrows Mill Road sewer project. That motion was approved without objection.

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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