A meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners Thursday night is expected to be heavily attended by those with a stake in a long-awaited sewer project scheduled for discussion.
However, there is concern among city officials about whether the work being sought for the N.C. 89-West corridor by Surry County officials and others should be embraced, or another option undertaken.
Their joint project in question involves the Interstate Water and Sewer District — an area about six miles west of Mount Airy adjacent to interstates 77 and 74, where development is planned and municipal sewer service is needed.
But there has been disagreement among city and county leaders about how the utility connection would operate. The county favors a “force-main” line from the interstates vicinity to the city, which would cost $2.4 million and be financed with the help of grant funding.
Municipal officials back a combination force main/gravity system with a $4.5 million price tag, which would allow more property owners in between to tap on to the line, along with two schools.
A strictly force-main system is not conducive to tap-ons because of the high pressure it would utilize in pumping the waste to Mount Airy for treatment. “That’s going to be a good deal of pressure,” said Jon Cawley, a city commissioner.
“If we do the proposed $2.4 million force main, then the public needs to understand that it will be very difficult/very expensive for people to hook on — and I mean into the thousands of dollars,” he said.
Cawley is familiar with the project due to serving on a water-sewer committee of the city council, which also includes Commissioner Scott Graham. The committee met last week with county government representatives to discuss the next step in the interstates project.
Surry officials including Commissioner Paul Johnson said then that they favor going ahead with the force-main project, because they are facing time limitations which threaten $1.3 million in grant funds awarded for that work. They also said county funding is not available for the more-expensive plan.
Johnson also said then that at least 75 jobs are affected, including existing positions at businesses such as Brintle Enterprises and others to be created by new development including a gas station/convenience store operation.
At the conclusion of last week’s session, Graham and Cawley said the matter would be brought before the full city board to consider at this Thursday’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.
The Surry County commissioners are slated to vote on their part of the project at a meeting Monday.
Public Confusion Feared
Cawley said Tuesday he is uncertain how citizen support for the strictly force-main option will be manifested at Thursday night’s meeting.
“But what I’m certain of is that the public does not understand what is about to happen,” he added.
Cawley believes that proceeding with the force-main project will cause confusion among citizens, who might not understand the technical differences between it and a system using gravity.
He said the “public perception” might simply be that a sewer line is being extended along the N.C. 89 corridor from Mount Airy to the interstates section.
“That’s true, but what’s also true is nobody is going to be able to hook onto it,” said Cawley, who added that he has had trouble getting “good numbers” on the expense of tapping into the line. But he stressed that it stands to be cost-prohibitive for the average home or business owner.
While acknowledging that the extra $2.1 million the gravity system would require is a lot of money for the two local governments to take on in troubled economic times, Cawley said it represents a good investment for the long run.
Given the potential for growth in the N.C. 89 corridor, it could lead to “several hundred jobs instead of 75,” he said.
Yet as the situation now stands, the Surry government will be spending $2.4 million for only 11 sewer customers in the interstates section, Cawley pointed out.
“And I wish the county (leaders) would change their minds.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.