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Wastewater options explored

GATESVILLE – Is the answer to the wastewater woes at Merchants Commerce Park to look at other options to handle the sewage connected with the expected growth in that area?

The Gates County Board of Commissioners believes there are other ways to deal with wastewater other than the current method of land application via the lagoon/sprayfield method.

At their Dec. 1 meeting, the Commissioners discussed alternatives while keeping the traditional method on the table.

Mike McAllister of Municipal Engineering, the firm under contract by the county, told the Commissioners that a drip or low pressure pipe system (basically a septic tank) could work.

“However that process will take nine months to go through the state permitting process. The Department of Health will need to become involved in that process since the estimated wastewater amount would exceed 3,000 gallons a day,” McAllister said.

“This is the only option other than land application,” he added. “The process begins with a preliminary report on the property, but that has already been done through our study for the land application system. Then there is the application to the Health Department and then it’s back and forth with the state. Soil tests will be needed prior to making the application.”

Commissioner Henry Jordan said the county’s current plan to use the sprayfield method was time sensitive.

“If this other option (drip system) takes nine months to go through the system and we cannot extend an agreement with the landowner (for purchasing property for the sprayfield), then this thing has problems. We could be out there with an investment and it doesn’t give us what we’re looking for,” Jordan said.

Jordan also asked if the application and approval of a drip system was failsafe.

“When you’re dealing with a state permitting agency, nothing is failsafe,” McAllister answered. “Until you have a permit in hand, it’s not failsafe, and even then you’re subject to losing it. I can’t make any guarantees, just like I couldn’t make guarantees with the land application system. I think this is a better fit for you than the land application system. It’s doable.”

Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens mentioned that during previous discussions there was talk about a wastewater system in Currituck County.

“The assisted living facility there in Barco has a septic system,” said Commission Chair Linda Hofler.

“Do we learn anything by looking into that,” asked Owens, referencing the same type of facility now under construction at Merchants Commerce Park.

“It doesn’t hurt to ask questions,” McAllister stressed.

Hofler pointed out that other than Gates County High School and Central Middle School, both of which are served by the current wastewater treatment facility located at Gates County Emergency Management office, the reminder of public schools in Gates County operate with septic systems.

“In our last meeting, part of this was discussed in closed session,” said Jordan. “We made you aware that based on the current proposal, that unless this was feasible for us to move forward, we would need to have NC DENR to address our current situation. They are relying on your data to determine whether or not the site is suitable. Once they get that, they have the authority to adjust that. Are there things in place to get that info to DENR?”

“Yes we can do that,” McAllister said.

“This is a new process,” Jordan stated. “We have to have something. The next thing we need to do is get in touch with the landowner to see if he will work with us. We’re talking nine months and our current contract (with the landowner) ends in January. If we go this route we’ll need some kind of new agreement (with the landowner). I’m speaking for myself, I feel we’re not going to purchase something not knowing what the outcome will be.”

Following a closed session at the end of the meeting, the Commissioner, back in open session, kept all options open by approving two measures….to enter into further negotiations with the landowner, and to send the soil samples for the new portion of the wastewater sprayfield to the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

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…both those drawbacks prompted the county’s engineers to come to the conclusion that it’s not making a lot of sense to continue at this site.

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

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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