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Competition could mean loss of 50 jobs here

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

10 months 29 days 2 hours ago |3039 Views | | | Email | Print

The only person speaking at a public hearing Thursday night on incentives proposed for a local industry seeking to expand was Todd Tucker of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership — but he had plenty to say.

Tucker, that organization’s president, said during the hearing before the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners that a $114,782 incentive package not only could result in 55 new jobs, but save 50 already here at the company involved.

That’s because there is competition from other areas for the expansion by the industry identified only by the code name “Project Stretch,” which could result in its existing facility in Mount Airy being moved elsewhere.

“What this means is, if we don’t win this, we will more than likely lose…what we have,” Tucker said.

Mount Airy is said to be competing with three other states for the proposed expansion.

The facility already here is part of a larger multi-plant corporation that is considering consolidating its production among operations located in Mount Airy, the Midwest and Southeast. Its parent company has been in business for decades and is an international exporter that also sells to U.S. markets.


Along with expressing support for providing the local government incentives to Project Stretch — mirroring an issue that has emerged several times in recent months with various companies wanting to expand — Tucker said during Thursday night’s hearing that there are some distinctions.


“Every one is different,” the economic-development official said of the projects.


Project Shield involves expansion plans, as has others previously. “But this is also what we would call a retention project,” Tucker said in reference to the possibility of losing jobs and missing out on new ones.


“This one is different.”


Mount Airy’s failure to land the expansion would mean the loss of an annual payroll of $1.6 million for the positions already here.


To entice a favorable decision, the incentives totaling $109,782 are being offered in the form of refunded property taxes the industry would pay over a five-year period. That’s in addition to a $5,000 local match for grant funds sought from the North Carolina Rural Center.


The company also would make a personal property investment of about $6.5 million for new manufacturing equipment and renovations to its local facility.


No action on the incentives was taken Thursday night by the city commissioners, who will decide on them at an upcoming meeting.


Wastewater Project

Another matter on Thursday night’s council agenda also drove home the point that while sewage treatment can be an unpleasant topic, so is the cost of providing that function.


A consultant presented results of a study showing that Mount Airy could face long-term costs ranging from $7.2 million to $14.6 million to improve the city wastewater treatment plant to meet more-stringent discharge limits, in today’s dollars.


These are expected in response to problems at High Rock Lake, located about 60 miles downstream of Mount Airy. This city is in the High Rock Lake Watershed along with Winston-Salem, High Point, Statesville and others.


High Rock Lake is considered impaired due to high chlorophyll levels that promote excess algae growth and can lead to fish, other animals and plants being killed. This is subjecting Mount Airy’s and other treatment facilities upstream to stricter limits on nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients they release which are catalysts for algae growth.


“(The year) 2019 is when you’re probably going to see these limits,” David Wagoner of CDM Smith Inc. said at Thursday night’s meeting. The city commissioners had voted last fall to pay CDM Smith — a consulting, engineering, construction and operations firm — $23,500 for a study on nutrients released from the local plant to help the municipality prepare for the tightened regulations, including financially.


Wagoner said the facility, located just off U.S. 52 at the southern end of town, already is facing upgrade issues due to its age.


The wastewater plant was built in 1960, renovated in 1974 and again renovated in 1992 when the facility was expanded to its present treatment capacity of 7 million gallons daily. No modifications have occurred in 21 years, meaning there is a need to consider equipment improvements, the consultant said.


“That’s something you’re going to have to address regardless of nutrients,” Wagoner said.


He outlined two upgrade options, with the $7.2 million one designed to remove phosphorus only. The scenario with the higher price tag, more than double at $14.6 million, would enable the removal of both nitrogen and phosphorus.


“This all accumulates in High Rock Lake,” Wagoner said.


Board members greeted his presentation with questions, including one from Commissioner Jon Cawley about how the relatively long distance between Mount Airy and High Rock Lake affects nutrients winding up there.


In response, Wagoner acknowledged that there is uncertainty about whether the local plant’s treated discharge ever makes it to that lake.


Commissioner Steve Yokeley, who was serving as mayor pro tem in the absence of Mayor Deborah Cochran, questioned why facilities such as golf courses, where there can be a runoff of chemicals such as phosphorus, aren’t facing tighter scrutiny as well.


“It all comes down to what you can regulate and what you can’t,” the consultant said.


Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or tjoyce@civitasmedia.com.

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