• 57°

Public hearing slated in advance of land purchase

GATESVILLE – In advance of the proposed purchase of nearly 90 acres of land for the development of a wastewater sprayfield, the Gates County Board of Commissioners want to hear from county citizens prior to possibly expending taxpayer dollars.

The Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 2 in the main courtroom of the Gates County Courthouse located at 202 Court Street, Gatesville.

The purpose of the hearing shall be to allow public comment regarding the Board of Commissioners’ intent to purchase property on NC HWY 158 West as described in Book Of Record 171, Page 493, Gates County Register Of Deeds, consisting of approximately 89 acres, more or less, which is presently owned by Jill B. Lang.

The subject parcel contains two separate parcels to be purchased. Parcel A is 54.5 acres at a purchase amount of $5,000 per acre, and parcel B is 34.5 acres at a purchase amount of $2,000 per acre.

If the board moves forward and purchases the property, the funds will be allocated from the county’s unassigned fund balance.

The purchase would be for potential development of wastewater spray field.

Interested parties are encouraged to attend or submit written comments by 5 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 1. For information or to submit written comments, please contact Melissa Lawrence, Clerk to the Board, PO Box 148 Gatesville, NC 27938.

In July of this year, after other potential sites for a wastewater sprayfield were deemed as unsuitable due to soil conditions, four of the five Commissioners voted in favor of a measure to proceed with a full study of the soil at the Lang site that could potentially serve as the sprayfield for the county’s sewer system at Merchants Commerce Center. That system also serves Gates County High School, Central Middle School, the Gates County Community Center, the Gates County Emergency Management Center (at the old prison) and the NC DOT facility.

The 4-1 vote, which was opposed by Commissioner Billy Felton, gave Municipal Engineering the green light to complete the evaluation and testing of the soil in order to determine the feasibility of submitting a report to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and for the engineering firm to present an overall cost of construction that can be shared at a public hearing hosted by the commissioners once the soil study is completed.

“We have looked at that tract and it looks much more promising than the tract we were on previously,” said Mike McAllister of Municipal Engineering back at the July meeting. “Based on the preliminary findings, it looks like we’ll be at between 30,000 and 50,000 gallons (wastewater treatment capacity per day) and we can refine that number once we complete all the tests.”

McAllister noted that the 55 acres is the cleared portion of the land usable for wastewater treatment. He said the county will need to purchase additional acres to serve as a buffer area, which is required.

Felton voiced his opposition to the project, based on his beliefs that it did not benefit all citizens of Gates County.

“I’ve asked before….in this new addition, what part of the county, what citizens of the county, will this benefit other than Merchants Commerce Center,” Felton inquired. “Before any decision is made here to invest any more money into this project, I would encourage us to have a public hearing, to receive public comment on the expense we’re about to bear, to include $165,000 in engineering costs, $300,000 for a fourth force main (pipe), another $150,000 for a (wastewater) lift station, and (money) to buy the property. And all this is before any construction can begin. This has become a very costly project that not only this generation, but the next generation will have to pay for. We need transparency; the public needs to know about this major investment.

“I’ve always heard of the need of the many being more important than the need of a few…I’m thinking of the needs of our entire county and not just the needs at the Merchants Commerce Center, which is a private development,” Felton added.

Board Vice-Chairman Jack Owens said the project will benefit all of the Gates County as it opens the door for economic opportunity.

“To Mr. Felton’s call for transparency, I will say that if you live in Hobbsville, or on the state line up near Virginia, this does benefit them due to the potential of economic development for our county,” Owens stressed. “Every time a new service comes here – a doctor, a dentist or an eye clinic – it benefits you whether you live in Corapeake, or Eure, or anywhere in our county because you can do business at home. And it benefits you because you have others sharing the tax burden.

“And if you live in Corapeake or Eure and you’re tired of having to drive outside the county to work, then know that these new businesses will offer jobs here at home,” Owens continued. “And, yes, I agree with Commissioner Felton that this board needs to be transparent and our citizens deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”

County Manager Natalie Rountree said an application for a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation to assist with the costs of this particular stage of the project is pending review upon a decision made by the commissioners to move forward with performing the required soil tests on the property.

“I hear from our citizens about wanting this or that type of business to come to our county. I’ve talked with an economic developer and he told me without having a sewage system in place, those types of business opportunities fall by the wayside,” Rountree stated. “Please be reminded that the option to purchase this land expires in September.

It was over one year ago that the county commissioners voted (3-2) in favor of a measure to add $686,200 to an ongoing project that provides sewer and wastewater treatment to an area along US 158 between Central Middle School and Eason’s Crossroads, to include Merchant’s Commerce Center. That additional money was split evenly ($343,100 each) from the county’s general fund and water fund. It included $200,000 to purchase land for the sprayfield and set aside funds for construction.

At that time, Felton noted that the total out-of-pocket expense to the county for this project was $1,457,695.25.

The total project, which includes work already completed in Phase 1 (installation of sewer lines, lift stations and pump stations), is now estimated at $3,607,695.25. To date, the county has been awarded $2.15 million in grant funding ($900,000 from the EDA; $700,000 from the NC Rural Center; $350,000 from CDBG; and $200,000 from the Golden Leaf Foundation).

The request to approve the additional county funds drew favorable votes from Jordan, Owens and now former Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan. Felton and Hofler voted against the measure.

The original project budget was $2,527,450, which included $1.42 million just for the wastewater treatment plant, ownership of which was transferred to the county by the state. That plant was constructed years ago to serve the now closed Gates County Correctional Center. When that wastewater treatment plant was transferred to the county it was rated at being able to handle 25,000 gallons per day (gpd). However, upon an inspection by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, that rate was lowered to 15,000 gpd.

Upon looking at potential sites for the wastewater sprayfield, county funds were expended to Municipal Engineering last year for a soils study at another tract, this one covering 57 acres. The study revealed that only 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.

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.

email author More by Cal