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Bad soil sidetracks wastewater plans

GATESVILLE –Gates County officials have hit a snag as they attempt to move forward with a plan to add a wastewater sprayfield in order to accommodate current and expected growth at Merchants Commerce Park.

At last week’s scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting, representatives of Municipal Engineering gave an update on land purchased by the county for use as a second sprayfield for the wastewater treatment facility. The original plan was for the sprayfield to handle as much as 40,000 gallons per day (gpd). However, due to soil conditions, that gpd number was initially cut in half.

Now, per the most recent study by a soil scientist, roughly seven and one-half acres of the parcel will accept treated wastewater by the spray method, further reducing the gpd number to below 2,000. Additionally, the land application of that treated wastewater is limited to only five months

“The conditions are worst than we first thought,” said Mike McAllister of Municipal Engineering. “We’re now at the point where it’s not making a lot of sense to continue at this site.”

“So, your recommendation is to find an alternative site altogether,” asked Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens.

“Yes sir,” McAllister answered.

“That a Lenoir soil,” said Commission Chairman Henry Jordan. “I’ve done a little research. I had one of the farmers in Gates County gave me some training on the USDA land soil survey. Basically, the soils are consistent throughout Gates County. In this area there is Lenoir, Craven, Windsor and Bladen soils. This is the third area we’ve gone to. What if we gave you another area to look for a sprayfield? At some point we need some guidance we can rely on.”

Municipal Engineering Soil Scientist Don Wells said the whole geographic area – the Coastal Plains region, was built on “wet soils.”

“That’s why you see ditches and canals in many of the farm fields of this region…they are for drainage purposes,” Wells noted. “When these drainage options do not exist, the result is standing water for long periods of time.”

Wells added that state guidelines must be adhered to in regards to what soil types drain better than others.

“There is a high water table at this site, roughly 15 inches below ground, and the Lenoir soil there is wet,” Wells noted. “The subsoil there, clay, is tight. I know when we were out there working this past July and one of those typical afternoon thunderstorms popped up, there would be water standing there two to three days later. This area might work if it were larger, because you could work in some drainage ditches on the outer buffers to help drain away some of the rainfall run-off.”

Wells added that the soil type work coupled with the irrigation application, drainage, average rainfall and average temperature are the determining factors when it comes to drawing a conclusion on how many gallons per day can be applied to a certain area.

“It’s a tough permitting process,” Wells said.

McAllister said that the current permitting process has changed dramatically since the original Gates County sewer sprayfield was built in 1988.

“What can we do to get a sprayfield that will serve our needs,” Jordan asked.

“There are a variety of options, to include level of treatment and re-use through irrigation of farmland,” Wells answered.

“When we’re looking for an alternative location, we need to find a Goldsboro or Craven soil,” Owens observed.

Unfortunately, Goldsboro soil is rare in that area and there is only a limited area of Craven.

“Are we better off not sending your (Wells) report to DENR, knowing that we will fall far below the gpd numbers we originally thought we’d have, and going out and seeking another area for a sprayfield,” Owens inquired.

“That’s why we’re here,” Wells answered. “We have data in hand showing a site that is limited to accepting treated wastewater….it’s your decision whether you want to proceed with sharing that data with DENR. This data is not favorable to you.”

Jordan said another thing to look at now was the money already spent from the budget to get the land survey/soil survey study to this point.

“What will it cost moving forward with a new site,” he asked. “Our options are limited when it comes to soil type, but there are sites with better landscape/drainage. What will work; we have to have a sprayfield with this sewer system.”

“Whatever area is chosen, keep in mind that DENR will not permit it for more than the soil can handle,” McAllister noted. “We do not know what that number will be until we do our testing.”

Jordan said there was a 44-acre parcel located off the US 158 bypass that has been previously discussed.

“I’ve heard all the discussion here tonight and I believe we have gotten to a point where we need to cut our losses,” said Commissioner Linda Hofler. “Let’s try something else.”

Hofler expressed concern over how the county would handle the sewer needs of the senior living facility currently under construction behind the State Employees Credit Union.

McAllister said there was enough current capacity of the county’s wastewater system to handle that facility.

“We’ve reached the 80 percent threshold of our current sprayfield, to include the senior living facility, and in order for us to grow we have to have something else in place,” Jordan stressed.

“If we’re down to only 1,700 gallons with this sprayfield now under study, I agree with Commissioner Hofler and cut our losses and move on,” stated Commissioner Billy Felton.

“The decision is not that easy, there are other things in place where we will need the added capacity,” Jordan said. “Plus we have to follow the provisions of the grants (received thus far on the entire wastewater project).”

“It’s my opinion, but the decision is up to you, that the economics of this does not make sense,” McAllister said. “It’s your decision to continue on the current path or do you want to go out and find something else.”

“The alternatives are what we need to focus on and that’s where we need your help,” Jordan remarked.

“We need to have some options; the 44 acres you mentioned needs to be discussed,” McAllister said. “Where we’re going right now will not work.”

Owens suggested putting together a chart that tracks the grant dollars, what has been spent to date, what the grant obligations are, and see where the numbers lead as well as looking at the new 44 acres.

“Let’s put those numbers together to see if it’s feasible to further consider the 44 acres,” Owens said.

“We’ve looked to see what it will cost the county if we do not follow on the requirements of the grants,” Jordan noted. “What we need to depend on is guidance from you (Municipal Engineering) that if we go down the road of seriously considering this new 44 acres, will it work.”

“Again, we can’t answer that until we study and test that property,” McAllister answered. “I wish I had a crystal ball.”

One option is a reclamation system…using the treated wastewater for irrigation purposes. The key there is to have an obligation from a local farmer, business or the school system’s athletic fields to take care of that water. Another would be to add a second wastewater lagoon. Both of those options come with healthy price tags.

The Commissioners took no action in open session about any of the proposed options.

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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