Mount Airy officials have a simple message for citizens concerned about delays in a utility project targeting the N.C. 89 corridor west of the city limits: Don’t look at us.
Yes, the so-called interstates project has long been in the works — since 1999 by some accounts — and there was an expectation the work to extend sewer service to areas near interstates 77/74 would be well under way by now.
And while municipal leaders are well aware that delays have occurred, it’s not Mount Airy’s fault, concerned citizens who attended a meeting of the city board of commissioners last week were told.
“There seems to be some confusion,” Commissioner Jon Cawley responded regarding the municipality’s involvement in the project, which some mistakenly view as a leadership role. But the Surry County government is the lead agency for the utility extension, Cawley reminded.
“We decided to give a million dollars — and that was it,” Cawley said of a vote by the city council nearly two years earlier, on Aug. 16, 2012, to allocate that sum for Mount Airy’s share of the project.
The $1 million in funding — representing a budgetary commitment of $200,000 per year — was approved for a combination force-main and gravity sewer system. This method was chosen not only to serve commercial sites in the interstates area, but to allow county homes and businesses along the N.C. 89-West corridor — and North Surry High and Gentry Middle schools — to hook on without a major expense.
“That is all we have ever had to decide about this,” Cawley said of the funding designation.
He addressed the issue after Rhonda Collins, owner of Beary Country Inc., a business in the Interstates Water and Sewer District District, spoke on behalf of a small group of affected citizens during a public-comment session at last Thursday’s council meeting.
Collins said those who are heavily dependent on the project — which affects job creation and preservation — had expected more progress before now, but it is August and still nothing has occurred. Collins also has questioned county officials on the matter, and they keep saying they’re “waiting on the city,” she reported.
The project is said to be awaiting the finalizing of city-county agreements before work can proceed.
City Manager Barbara Jones told the concerned citizens that a water-sewer committee meeting would be held at some point to address the issue.
“So we don’t a meeting scheduled?” Collins asked in a frustrated tone.
(Since Thursday’s session, the city manager’s office has announced that the water-sewer meeting will be held on Aug. 26 at the Municipal Building.)
Collins’ frustration at last week’s meeting also appeared to be shared by city officials including Cawley.
“I wonder how long we’re going to leave a million dollars as an offer on the table?” the city commissioner said of the mounting delay.
“And I don’t think it will be forever.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.