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Land purchase approved

GATESVILLE – The Gates County Board of Commissioners approved a motion to pursue the purchase of land for a new spray field for the county’s wastewater treatment plant.

Following a public hearing on Wednesday and a lively discussion by the commissioners, they voted 4-1 to approve expending over $340,000 in taxpayer money to purchase nearly 90 acres of land needed for the spray field.

Commissioners Linda Hofler, Jack Owens, Henry Jordan, and Ray Freeman III voted to proceed with the project, with Commissioner Billy Felton casting the dissenting vote.

The public hearing started with Gates County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Jordan speaking as a concerned citizen.

He lives near the site selected for wastewater spray field.

“I was concerned about my property value,” R. Jordan said. “I value my property.”

He said he spoken with the county commissioners and the county manager about the spray fields, but they had never gotten back with them.

“That was very disrespectful that none of the commissions got back with me about the spray field,” R. Jordan said. “I’m concerned about the smell of this spray field and the disease. I don’t want to smell the germs.

“I feel I should be compensated,” he said since his property value would decrease. “It’s discouraging. You don’t need it behind my property. You need to be more considerate.”

Chuck Brothers was the next speaker, a former Planning Board member.

He contacted the Local Government Commission, which raised questions about whether there was an agreement between the developer of the project and the county, and whether the funding had been fully disclosed to the public.

He said he investigated by searching newspaper articles by the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and Gates County Index (both operated by the same company and same editor, Cal Bryant.)

He found six pertinent articles, the first in Nov. 2009. It said Dr. Lewis Fisher Jr. proposed to build a multipurpose recreation facility off of Hwy. 158 across the road from Gates County High School.

He read excerpts from each newspaper article detailing the growth of the project over time and the increased spending by the county.

“I’m not opposed to growth,” said Brothers, “and I’m not opposed to making things good for the citizens of this county

“But when are ya’ll going to wake up and realize that this albatross has no wings,” he concluded.

Former county commissioner Jimmy Smith said when he was in office they lowered property tax rates a couple of times.

“That would be a great roll for this current board; to lower property taxes,” he said.

He said when he first heard about Merchants Commerce Center he was excited, but the wastewater problems have become too much of a problem.

He said that any time a private business needs to “propped up by county citizens and by grants, it usually never ends well. It’s like a faucet that can’t be turned off.”

“So I would be in favor of rejecting the proposal,” he concluded.

Ann Hand was the final speaker. She said she used to live in Virginia Beach, but left because of overdevelopment and high property taxes.

She now enjoys the rural, simple life she now leads in Gates County. She pointed out that many people live in poverty.

“We have serenity and beauty in Gates County,” she said. “I don’t know how bad this spray field is going to be for people.”

The county manager then read two letters send in as part of public hearing process. The first letter was against expansion of the spray field, saying it would harm county citizens because it is an agricultural county.

It said the county should instead invest in education and expanding the existing infrastructure, such as the county water system.

The second letter was in support of the owner of the planned Chinese restaurant in support of wastewater expansion.

The potential client would have to build a septic system costing thousands without expansion of the wastewater expansion.

The board went back into open session with Commissioner Owens saying concerns raised during the public hearing should be addressed.

Michael McAllister, the project engineer, told the audience that this would not be spraying raw sewage onto the spray field.

“This is treated wastewater. It is not a septic system, per say,” he said. “This particular system has an advanced waste treatment system in front of it before it goes into the lagoon.

“The water sprayed onto the land, which will not be the entire land, will be sprayed onto zones, and is chlorinated and disinfected before it goes on there,” McAllister said. “So this misnomer about the germs and so forth is incorrect.”

He said there are setback requirements for spray fields from close proximity to dwellings and that the treatment system would be at the back of the property against the woods, so Robert Jordan would not get the smell from that far away.

Commissioner Jordan said the current spray field serves the schools and other properties using the system. Because the prison didn’t properly maintain the wastewater treatment system and lagoon, which was formerly owned and operated by the old state prison before being turned over to the county upon its closing, the state downgraded its capacity from 25,000 gallons and the current spray field is already 200 gallons above capacity.

So currently, Henry Jordan said, “we could be put on notice by the state for violations if the county was not actively pursuing an upgrade.”

McAllister agreed. New projects, such as the potential middle school project, require water and sewage and that septic systems that treat 3,000 gallons or more per day can get extremely expensive.

Owens said when the county had taken over the system, it was later they discovered it hadn’t been maintained properly by the Department of Corrections.

McAllister said it was in very bad shape. The county employees did a good job to improve the system, but it still doesn’t meet state requirements.

Commissioner Felton said the speakers raised valid issues and wondered if the county should continue to make mistakes.

He said citizens live in Gates County because they want to and if they want to go to a shopping center they’ll drive 30 minutes to go to one.

Henry Jordan said to not take action would just be pushing a problem down the road.

Kathy Lane, tax administrator, said property value depends on location and said a spray field would affect property values near it.

Henry Jordan said the wastewater system is for the benefit of the entire county, not just single business. Board chairwoman Hofler said the county would lose $1.8 million in grants if they abandoned the project. She also pointed out that added capacity to the system and a system that’s already over capacity shouldn’t be delayed.

“You’re not going to be able to kick the can down the road,” McAllister said. “You’re already too far down it.”

When the vote was taken to proceed with the project, only Felton voted against it.

The property to be purchase is 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.