After years of delays and promises of action on a project to extend sewer service down N.C. 89, at least one Interstates District property owner says enough is enough.
“I’ve been working on this and trying to get these services out there for about 20 years,” said J.T. Henson, who owns a little more than 30 acres in the district that has been described as prime for commercial development. “I don’t understand the holdup. I just want to have the opportunity to pay more taxes because the area has been developed.”
The project, in the works for at least a decade, will provide water and sewer service to the district, located along N.C. 89 between Interstates 74 and 77. The area has been targeted by county planners as ripe for economic development and commercial growth, and several property owners in the district are planning commercial businesses once the service is available.
In addition, once completed the project will provide sewer service to Gentry Middle and North Surry High schools.
For Henson, the effort as of late has been more about offering lip service than trying to get construction under way.
“I suspect we’re going to have to have some fecal material floating down the creek, a child in one of the schools getting hepatitis and the county getting sued before they see it as important,” he said.
County officials say they are near the end of the planning process, but “these things take time.”
County Manager Chris Knopf said progress is being made, but three more things have to happen before the project can be let for bid.
“We’re still working on coming to an agreement on two contracts with the city of Mount Airy, one for a water system and one for a sewer system,” he said. “And we’re planning to meet with the city later this month to work through those agreements.”
In addition to the contract with the city, Knopf said the county is still in the process of trying to secure right-of-way easements with property owners in the district.
“We don’t have very many more easements to secure, but they must be in place before work can begin,” he said.
The third hurdle is securing construction permits from the Department of Transportation.
“Once those three items, the agreements with the city, the easements and the permits are in place, we could probably go to bid within 45 days,” Knopf said. “In theory, work could begin by early fall. We’re kind of in the home stretch as far as completing the necessary tasks that need to be completed before going out to bid.”
Henson said he’ll believe it when he sees it.
“Three things need to happen, but it doesn’t appear anything is happening,” he said. “We’re a year and a half behind schedule, and the county was supposed to have a meeting in January or February of 2013 with Mount Airy to finalize the agreement. There isn’t an agreement signed yet.
“Why does it take so long to set up a meeting with a neighboring locality?”
County officials had originally stipulated that the agreement with the city include the city taking over the beleaguered Bannertown/Flat Rock water system, but after the city balked at the proposal, that stipulation was quickly rescinded.
The county is considering making hookups to that system mandatory in hopes the city will take over the system.
The city has pledged $1 million to the Interstates project, provided the county agree to use a gravity-fed and force-main system that will offer more capacity and the ability to connect Gentry Middle and North Surry High schools to the system.
The city, however, has not allocated any money to the project in next year’s budget, noting no formal agreement has been reached with the county.
In addition to the money pledged by Mount Airy, the county has secured $1 million in funding from the North Carolina Rural Center, an additional $300,000 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $200,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation, $150,000 through a federal Community Development Block Grant and a pledge of about $160,000 from property owners. The remaining funding, around $2.5 million, will be provided by the county, most likely through a loan.
The first leg of the project was undertaken in 2008, and involved running a water trunk line from the town limits of Dobson to the boundary of the Interstates District. The county invested $777,487 in local funds to complete that portion of the work.
In 2009, the county worked to bring water to the district from the town of Dobson, a project that required the investment of more than $1.2 million in general fund money to complete. That project was completed about four years ago.
Henson said he doesn’t know whether he’ll be around when shovels finally go in the ground and the entire project is completed.
“I want results,” he said. “I really think that if we don’t get it done this time, I won’t live to see it. We need to have this project going out to bid, not be dragging our feet and using one excuse or another to delay it.”
During Monday’s board of commissioner’s meeting, the county passed a budget that allocates $240,100 to the project for things like right of way acquisition and engineering costs.
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.