SILER CITY — After being under a state-imposed sewer moratorium for almost a year, the town of Siler City signed a Special Order by Consent with the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality, which establishes goals for the town to allow it to receive additional sewer capacity.
The SOC comes after over months of negotiations between Siler City administration and state officials. Siler City Public Utilities Director Chris McCorquodale said the SOC marks the beginning of a new era for development for the town.
“It (the SOC) breaks down the schedule that has certain things that we have to accomplish throughout the next year,” he said.
McCorquodale and his staff, along with Town Manager Hank Raper, worked to negotiate with NCDEQ on lifting the moratorium.
The moratorium prevented the town from adding new sewer connections, effectively putting a halt to developments in Siler City’s planning jurisdiction. NCDEQ cited multiple town violations of the Clean Water Act when it announced the moratorium last May, including elevated nitrogen levels — some above 800% of permitted limits — in discharges from the town’s wastewater facility.
The SOC lays out four phases the town must complete; upon the completion of each phase, the state provides an additional allocation of gallons per day of sewer the town can grant to proposed developments.
McCorquodale said the first phase of the SOC has already been completed, and his staff are working diligently to have the second phase completed by this summer.
“We completed phase one before the SOC was even signed from either side so we could speed up this process,” he said. “We’ve completed all the milestones in phase one and a majority of our milestones in phase two, so right now we’re just waiting for the state to give us permission to release the 50,000 gallons per day from phase one.”
Each phase of the SOC involves various renovations and additions for the wastewater plant. Raper said having the SOC established will help “make the case” for requesting state funds to help fund the improvements and address infrastructure improvements.
“We are trying to work with the state and going through their budget process to see if we can get some direct appropriations like other communities have received to help with their infrastructure,” Raper said. “I think Siler City has a really good story to tell as to why it needs this allocation … Siler City can be the epicenter of residential development and business development and can grow on all four sides. So this could be a community where tens of thousands of people could potentially move to fuel all these jobs in this whole region, and this can be the centerpiece … It gets us on the radar of the state when we have so much growth that potentially can come to our city. It kind of puts a red flag out there to say Siler City needs some help. ”
Being in an SOC is beneficial for both the state and the town, according to Raper. He said the SOC will help make Siler City’s financial requests a priority in the state’s budget, as well as force NCDEQ to stick to a set of terms and conditions.
“The SOC draws attention to say, if we don’t address this and do it in a very short period of time, Siler City is not going to have the ability to grow its system,” Raper said. “You have a contract that binds both sides — we know what’s expected of us and what’s expected from DEQ … We’ve committed to them that we’re going to follow through and do these things.”
With Wolfspeed-related growth coming to Siler City, Raper said it’s in the town’s best interest to address the SOC and other issues involving water and wastewater. He also said the town needs to address water and wastewater rates, since no increases have been implemented since 2016. A hike would help account for inflation and the elevated cost of services and parts needed to maintain the water and wastewater facilities.
“It’s not our intention in any way to ask the residents of Siler City to subsidize Wolfspeed or any other industry coming into our city,” Raper said. “On the flip side, that does not mean that we can reduce rates because we have an industry coming. We do need to increase rates because rates haven’t been increased for years, and inflation applies to water, sewer utilities, just like it does to any other cost.”
According to the N.C. Water and Wastewater report, only about 25% of North Carolina municipalities haven’t updated their rates since 2018 or earlier. Raper said because the town hasn’t raised its rates in almost seven years, the price increase will be more than what it would be if it had been re-evaulated every year. Going forward, however, he wants to look at rates during the budget process every year.
“No one wants to raise it … but for the long-term sustainability of the system, the best strategy is to get the rates where there’s a small, incremental increase every year. That way, it’s not so dramatic on anybody,” Raper said. “Those little increases over several years time add up to a lot of money — you might make another couple of million dollars that could have addressed other issues just from the little increases that you’re doing instead of going from one big increase to another big increase.”
Between figuring out what future rates need to be and addressing each requirement for the SOC, McCorquodale said he and his staff are working to ensure development in Siler City can continue.
“We’re going to keep chipping away at it and do our best to improve the plants so we can get growth,” he said.
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at email@example.com.