Chatham County municipalities have been awarded more than $29 million for infrastructure projects, including $28.4 million for water and wastewater projects in Pittsboro.
The funding, announced by Gov. Roy Cooper last Thursday, is part of $462.9 million in help for 249 infrastructure projects in 80 communities to aid drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems across the state.
Cooper’s office said aging and failing water systems “are an obstacle for communities across North Carolina, preventing reliable access to clean drinking water and sewer services, and harming health, quality of life and economic development efforts.”
“Every single North Carolinian deserves clean drinking water, and aging water systems are a threat to the health and economies of too many of our communities,” Cooper said. “Thanks to investments initiated by the Biden administration, we can make a once in a generation transformation in rebuilding water infrastructure for towns and counties throughout our state.”
For this round of funding, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) received 649 applications from 91 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, and reconsidered applications from spring 2022. In total, 734 applications were considered for funding, representing requests of more than $3.5 billion. The awards are funded by a portion of $2.3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, State Revolving Funds (including Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds), and Community Development Block Grant funding.
Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Dist. 54), who represents Chatham County in the N.C. House, said investing in infrastructure projects is a necessity with the incoming development and growth.
“Chatham and Randolph are growing quickly — as fast as any other part of our state,” he said. “With that growth, we need to make investments in our water and sewer infrastructure in order to continue serving both residents and new businesses. I am glad to see this money coming into our communities to ensure clean water is available for every resident, and so that we keep pace with the needs of new industries locating here.”
In Chatham County:
• Pittsboro will receive $17.9 million for two drinking water projects to add new treatment processes to control emerging contaminants. Pittsboro’s water treatment plant will get $5,680,000 for additional PFAS treatment facilities and $12,244,000 for UV-OP treatment facilities.
The town will also receive $10.5 million for a regionalization wastewater transmission system improvement project converting the wastewater treatment plant into an equalization pump station and force main to a lift station in Sanford.
• Siler City will receive $900,00 for two projects: $500,000 for stormwater utility and another $400,000 for its sewer system.
The nearby town of Liberty in Randolph County received $12,900,000 in funding for two projects.
Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry said the town’s infrastructure improvement projects are crucial to moving forward with a potential merger with the city of Sanford’s water and wastewater system.
“When you think about the fact that we only have a $9 million a year budget for everything in the town, it just becomes more exponential that we have all these millions to spend on this one particular project,” Perry said.
Commissioner Kyle Shipp said grants received by the town would also go to establishing treatment plans for PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane, two unregulated compounds that continue to pollute the Haw River and, in turn, Pittsboro’s water supply.
While he is happy the town is receiving funding, Shipp said he wishes Pittsboro didn’t have to ask for funding in the first place.
“We believe these projects will allow Pittsboro residents to have some of the best quality in the country and we are very fortunate to have that. However, it is unfortunate that this funding is required at all,” he said. “These are costs that the citizens of Pittsboro have borne, and now, the citizens of North Carolina are assisting with the cost to remove contamination from the water that shouldn’t be there in the first place.”
Perry shared similar sentiment to Shipp and also added she thinks the funds will help to alleviate the town from the constraints of its current water and wastewater capacity.
“We have no sewer allocation to give out, and in a sense, we are in a position of not being able to approve any future projects,” she said. “As far as the long-term is concerned, there are various ideas about how that (Sanford) force main can be enlarged and how the receipt of water can help us dispose of more wastewater. So really, in a sense, it’s going to solve the immediate problem whenever it [Sanford Force Main] gets installed in two to three years, but it will certainly help to resolve problems in the future.”
Siler City’s $900,000 to help evaluate and address miscellaneous issues in its stormwater and sewer system.
Town Manager Hank Raper said the town applied for the grants from NCDEQ to help fund some engineering studies to develop strategic plans to tackle the issues brought by incoming growth.
Some of the money will help fund an engineering study of all the town’s sewer assets, which will help lay out the top priorities for future staff and commissioners.
“They’ll be instrumental in helping us create a public utilities capital improvement plan,” Raper said. “We’re already working … to do a rate study, so that’s helping to look at projected population growth and the utility needs to meet that projected growth demand. Having the sewer AIA done helps us identify the prioritization of what the sewer needs are and what needs to be addressed.”
The remainder of the funds Siler City received was given as a part of the local assistance for stormwater infrastructure investments program, which was established to help municipalities find weak points in stormwater infrastructure.
Raper said this would be the first time in Siler City’s history that the town received funding from the state to analyze its stormwater facilities.
“We currently do not have any mechanisms in place for evaluating and ranking the stormwater needs within our city,” he said. “We certainly know there’s a need for it as the town develops and grows … that creates additional challenges from an infrastructure standpoint that we need to plan for when it comes to growth and development.”
Siler City received the maximum allocation for each grant, Raper said, and he believes it gives the town a chance to get ahead in preparing for a population boom.
“We want to make sure that when we’re spending the public’s money, that we’re doing it as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Raper said. “So having this as a tool in our toolbox to evaluate our system and identify where needs are puts us in an absolute best position to spend the money wisely.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.