So, what is Pittsboro doing about its water problems?

Posted 4/28/21

PITTSBORO — Town leadership, including the board of commissioners and town staff, have worked behind the scenes for more than a year to resolve Pittsboro’s worsening water contamination issues. A …

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So, what is Pittsboro doing about its water problems?

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PITTSBORO — Town leadership, including the board of commissioners and town staff, have worked behind the scenes for more than a year to resolve Pittsboro’s worsening water contamination issues. A lack of transparency, though, has veiled their intentions and left many residents unsure of the town’s progress, according to Town Manager Chris Kennedy.

“We have to do a better job of communicating to the public,” he said in the board of commissioners’ regular meeting on Monday. “... We try to push this out as best we can, but for what we may lack in communicative abilities to push this out on a regular basis, I can assure you we are exchanging that for trying to do things on the other side of it ... We are taking this seriously and we’re trying to everything we can to push forward solutions.”

Pittsboro’s water supply, drawn from the Haw River, has received widespread attention across the state and country after scientists and researchers discovered in recent years that it was teeming with carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, as the News + Record previously reported. Other harmful chemicals such as 1, 4 dioxane have been found in higher-than-normal concentrations as compared to water supplies nationwide, but have dissipated in recent months.

On Jan. 11, the board entertained a presentation from CDM Smith, an engineering and construction company, which provides water solutions for government and private clients. Pittsboro hired the firm to investigate potential solutions to the town’s water contamination.

“That was the culmination of about a year’s worth of work,” Kennedy said of the presentation, “looking at advance treatment for our water plant.”

A month later, town staff petitioned the board of commissioners for $1.2 million to act on CDM Smith’s recommendations and begin development of a filtration system that would filter 90% of all PFAS from the town’s drinking supply. The commissioners promptly approved the request.

“That $1.2 million is going toward what we call a fast-track GAC project,” Kennedy said, referring to the granular activated coal filtration the board elected to install. “We know that time is of the essence with projects like these, and so I think the board is being responsive to that call.”

The accelerated installation project should complete within about a year. Of the $1.2 million allocation, $800,000 will be used to purchase GAC vessels and the necessary filtration media, “the carbon itself,” Kennedy said. The other $400,000 will cover engineering costs.

But the fast-track filtration will not cover all of Pittsboro’s long-term water needs. In tandem with GAC installation, the town is pursuing development of a new water treatment plant on Jordan Lake in partnership with Durham, Chatham County and OWASA, the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. At the end of February, Kennedy said, the board approved $70,000 to “continue forward with that project.”

“Obviously, there’s a much longer lead time,” he said. “We’re looking at the better part of a decade or more. But we’re very much active in that.”

A few weeks after the board authorized staff to proceed with GAC filtration, the town accepted a bid from CDM Smith to carry out the design/build phase of the treatment plant’s modification.

“When you’re looking at qualifications, no one knows our system better than they do,” Kennedy said. “We were very excited to see them submit on that project, they have a very strong construction arm of their team as well. And so we’re well under way with that project and continuing forward.”

Funding such projects remains a concern for the board and town staff. Accelerated construction demands substantial upfront payments, which may have to be displaced by increased user rates. To subsidize the costs, Kennedy submitted a request to Congressman David Price at the beginning of this month for federal grant money cover most of the project’s expense.

“I think we have a compelling case for Congressman Price to submit that,” Kennedy said. “PFAS is a national topic, and certainly it’s no shock to anybody about our current condition in Pittsboro, so we hope we have a very competitive, compelling case to get some funding ... We swung for the fences with that hoping something happens.”

The town also stands to benefit from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Pittsboro is slated to receive about $1.2 million, all of which will go toward water solutions.

“This board has supported me in suggesting we spend 100% of those dollars towards this fast-track project and our water plan,” Kennedy said.

Installation of the GAC system is expected to cost about $3 million. Long-term plans to increase and improve Pittsboro’s water supply will cost about $42 million.

Other news

The commissioners discussed several land development topics. The first three were considered in public hearing and sent to the town’s planning board for further consideration. The final three were approved by motion.

• Rezoning request

Chatham Park Investors proposed an amendment to the Chatham Park Planned Development District Master Plan to rezone three parcels of land located on Eubanks Road adjacent to the intersections of U.S. Hwy. 64 bypass.

• Green Beagle Kennel special use permit

Green Beagle Kennel, which has a pet boarding service in Chapel Hill, requested a special use permit to build a commercial kennel, accessory pet daycare, grooming and dog training facility to be located on approximately 16 acres on Eubanks Road, adjacent to and north of the U.S. Hwy. 64 bypass.

• Zoning text amendment

Planning Staff requested the adoption of the town’s unified development ordinance, which “consolidates, rewrites, and replaces multiple ordinances into a single document to manage land development including the Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Ordinance, Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, Lighting Ordinance, Stormwater Ordinance, and Riparian Buffer Protection Ordinance,” according to the town’s submitted proposal. The UDO is designed to streamline town function’s and simplify the review for new development.

• Zoning text amendment on nightclubs, bars and taverns

Town staff requested an amendment to the zoning ordinance to permit nightclubs, bars and taverns, within highway commercial (C-2) and central commercial (C-4) zoning classifications. The adjustment would permit such businesses to operate in areas of town — notably downtown — where they were previously limited. The board voted 4-1 in favor of the amendment, with Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin voting against out of concern that bars and nightclubs might operate too close to schools.

• Shopping center rezoning

Developer Graham Scott Oldham is requested the board rezone about 13 acres from residential agricultural to highway commercial conditional. The land is located at 3151 U.S. 15-501 North and is the current site of Poultry Villa Landscaping and Supplies. Oldham plans to develop a commercial shopping center. The Board of Commissioners approved his request with a unanimous vote.

• Sewer allocation request for Kiwanis Club of Pittsboro

The Kiwanis Club of Pittsboro, which plans to host Pittsboro’s new Boys & Girls club, requested a new sewer allocation from the town of 665 gallons per day. The 2,700-square-foot facility now uses a septic system, which is failing. The board voted unaninously to approve.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at and on Twitter @dldolder.


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