H2O upgrade

Published 3:02 pm Sunday, August 2, 2015

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Commissioners have taken steps to upgrade the county’s water system following a special meeting held prior to their regular monthly meeting held July 20 at the Blue Jay Fire Department in Indian Woods.

One of the first improvements the county hopes to make is to the South Windsor water system, which is now part of Bertie’s Rural Water District III. The county took over operation of the water system in the spring of 2014.  Early estimates had placed the cost of a proposed upgrade at around $3 million.

At the Commissioners’ request, Aaron Gaskins, Area Specialist with the USDA Rural Development’  Kinston Office, reviewed the county’s application of a funding package and detailed to the Board how the system can be financed without a tax increase.

The USDA “Letter of Conditions” that will be presented calls for a loan of not more than $1.72 million to be re-paid over 40 years; along with a grant not to exceed $1.07 million and a local contribution of $264,000 from Bertie County Water District III for a total cost of $3,055,000; sufficient to complete the project.

“That’s pretty good for us,” said County Manager Scott Sauer, “a loan over 40 years at 2.87 percent and a grant of $1.07 million.”

Following the review presentation, the Commissioners unanimously approved sending the necessary application paperwork forward to expedite the process.

Also at the meeting, the county’s engineering consultants, Green Engineering of Raleigh, presented the Commissioners with their hydraulic study report of effects on the county system with the addition of the Roxobel, Kelford, and Lewiston-Woodville water systems.

The Green report factors into a pair of proposals for two more loan applications the county is seeking with help from the state as well as USDA.

One loan/grant application would be for Roxobel consolidation improvements with that town’s addition to the county water system; including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA, system components, line extensions, meter replacements and booster pump installation.  Based on the hydraulic study recommendations, the county is seeking a loan in the amount of $1.44 million of which $500,000 is requested as a grant to be financed over 20 years at 1.75 percent.

Another application would be for county-wide water system improvement project, including SCADA network completion, for Water Districts I, II and IV, and meter replacements for customers in Lewiston-Woodville and Kelford in the amount of nearly $1.9 million on a similar 20-year term at 1.75 percent.

“We’ve got an antiquated analog telephone line system that hardly works,” said Sauer. “It’s one of the last in eastern North Carolina like this, and we’re moving toward a wireless system. The work of the Commissioners and (county Water Department Director) Ricky Spivey has really been fruitful. Hopefully this will advance the technology of our (county water) system and its overall efficiency.”

Bertie County has 13 wells spread over some 700 square miles, each of which has to be visited by Spivey daily.

“That’s not Monday-thru-Friday, but Monday-thru-Sunday,” said Sauer, “so he never gets a day off to do this.  With the SCADA system, Ricky would be able to open up his (computer) and monitor each well, control the pumps, and measure water tank levels from one device; cutting his visits to the wells from once a day to once a week.”

Sauer said in addition to the savings it would be taking Bertie County’s water management to a new level.

“We’ve picked up roughly 650 (new) customers with the addition of South Windsor, Lewiston-Woodville, and Roxobel added to the county system,” the County Manager stated. “With those customers we should be able to finance this project.”

There is one bright spot that Sauer pointed out for the new customers on the county water system: bills that were mailed on July 12 were not received until July 29 due to the new postal service re-distribution system that distributes mail through Raleigh, instead of Rocky Mount.  But Bertie County is not the only one affected by the changes within the postal region; Martin County has been affected as well, leading to delays of some deliveries there of up to a month.

This did, however, lead to an unexpected windfall for Bertie water system customers in District IV western quadrant, encompassing Lewiston-Woodville, Kelford, and parts of Aulander.

“We will be granting at least a 10-day grace period (on collections), maybe more, due to the delinquency of our mailings,” Sauer remarked.

The county manager complimented the work of all involved in helping make these improvements that are leading to a “Better Bertie”.

“They’ve all just done a fantastic job the past 12 months,” Sauer concluded. “That’s good news for Bertie County.”