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Northampton water expansion project approved by USDA

JACKSON – The effort to expand water access in Northampton County is flowing right along. The Board of Commissioners heard an update on the Phase Six water expansion project at their regular meeting here on Aug. 17.

Public Works Director Kirk Rogers provided information about the project’s status, which will deliver water to several roads in the eastern portion of the county once completed.

In June 2019, the commissioners approved a contract with Rivers & Associates to complete the preliminary engineering report. By June of this year, all the necessary reports had been submitted to the USDA for consideration.

“On Aug. 6, we received great news from the USDA’s State Engineer’s office that our preliminary engineering report was approved, and the project has been recommended for funding,” Rogers stated.

He noted the Phase Six water expansion project was not only approved but also recommended by USDA for public health reasons. During previous updates to the Board, Rogers had explained they also submitted information about well water contamination following a study conducted by UNC professors and coordinated by the Northampton Citizens Against Coal Ash group. The study showed high levels of lead and secondary levels of other metals in wells in the proposed water system expansion area.

At Monday’s meeting, Rogers said they expect to hear a funding offer from USDA within the next month or two, and could potentially receive a grant covering up to 75 percent of the project cost.

“We’re very excited to get past this first hurdle,” he continued.

For the past few months, the Public Works department has been accepting applications for people who live in the areas which will be served by the new expansion. Rogers reported a total of 208 applications received so far, and they could continue to accept applications until the project goes out for bids.

“We want as much grant money as we possibly can get,” said Board Chair Charles Tyner.

Tyner also said that providing water to over 200 homes would be a good “milestone” for the county.

Following the Phase Six update, Rogers also briefly shared other Public Works information. He said he would bring more details at a later date, but he wanted the commissioners to consider subsidizing their meter service installation. Currently, the county charge for a ¾ inch service is $800 with a $50 refundable fee. He noted that surrounding counties such as Hertford and Bertie offer a payment plan to customers who cannot pay the full amount all at once.

Additionally, Rogers said that approximately 300 of 5,300 accounts had become late with their water payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Public Works department would continue to work with those customers to receive payment. In accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper’s previous executive orders, the county cannot charge a late fee or terminate service for being late until the executive order expires. Northampton County customers will have six months, beginning from Aug. 1, to pay any charges accrued from Mar. 31-July 29.

Tyner said he was glad to see there was only a small portion of accounts behind on their payments. He and the other commissioners thanked Rogers and the rest of the Public Works department for their hard work recently.