After weighing funding options, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners has decided to utilize a loan totaling nearly $1 million for a much-anticipated utility project in an older city neighborhood.
It is targeting water-sewer improvements in the Maple Street-Merritt Street area located just north of West Independence Boulevard, and also will encompass Pippen and Porter streets and pipes behind houses on Willow Street.
The upcoming work, to begin by 2020, represents the largest public water and sewer project in Mount Airy since efforts undertaken about 10 years ago to bring those systems to areas annexed by the city.
Meeting well-documented needs in the Maple-Merritt section has been in the planning stages for several years, but those plans initially were denied grant funding as a way to spread the total $2.7 million cost to more than just local taxpayers.
Persistent Mount Airy officials were notified in May that the city’s latest application for $1,731,600 in Community Development Block Grant infrastructure funding had been approved for sewer improvements in the area. This came after word from the State Water Infrastructure Authority that the city also was selected for a $963,100 low-interest loan to cover the water line replacements in the neighborhood.
However, no decision had been made since then on whether to proceed with the loan, and the matter landed in the laps of the commissioners during a meeting Thursday night when they unanimously approved using that funding after some discussion.
City Community Development Director Martin Collins advised that engineering work for the sewer line portion of the improvements had progressed to the stage where it was time for a decision on whether municipal staff members should pursue the loan for water lines.
The commissioners did not readily embrace that option, with Commissioner Shirley Brinkley asking if a recent $1 million allocation to the city from the N.C. General Assembly could be relied on instead. A lobbyist who helped secure that funding has told local officials it could be used for any water-sewer needs.
City Manager Barbara Jones replied that it was her understanding the board’s earlier instructions regarding this appropriation were for it to be directed toward a future need. Jones indicated that this would not include a project such as the Maple-Merritt work which already had been planned and targeted for grant funding.
Yet the city manager said it was up to the board to decide, which led to the vote to take advantage of the $963,100 loan.
The rate for the low-interest funding will be 50 percent of market rates, according to Collins, with Thursday night’s discussion indicating that the term of the loan is 20 years. The maximum interest rate to be charged is listed at 1.82 percent.
Based on Thursday night’s discussion, the loan will be repaid as a debt-service item in the city’s annual water and sewer fund budget.
The loan will fund the installation of 6,200 linear feet of 6-inch water lines, while 7,700 linear feet of 8-inch sewer lines will occur using the grant money.
Work to be “complex”
Now that the financing is squared away, the upcoming work will be “one of the more complex projects we’re going to tackle here in Mount Airy in a long, long time,” Collins said.
It will require digging up old lines in a residential area made of up of both single-family homes and apartments, he said.
“It is some of the oldest and most-troublesome infrastructure that the city has,” Collins said earlier. The sewer needs have loomed as the largest priority, as evidenced by line breaks and backups into homes. Most of the lines are made of terracotta, a clay-based material, and are more than 60 years old.
When it gets under way, the construction will cause some disruption of travel in the area and other issues.
“It will have a substantial impact on the neighborhood,” Collins said Friday. Work is to be done street by street, one area at a time, to limit the upheaval. “Then they will take on another street.”
Commissioner Jon Cawley asked Thursday night if the water and sewer pipes could be installed simultaneously in the same ditches — presumably to save money and lessen the inconvenience.
But Public Works Director Jeff Boyles responded that state regulations require the two to be located at least 10 feet apart.
The water portion of the project is expected to begin in 2020 and the sewer work at some point after that.
“We’ll definitely start by 2020,” Collins said Friday. “There could be some work that starts next year.”
The project is in the early planning stages with designs still to be done for both the water and sewer phases, the community development director said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.