Commissioners formally start work on water, sewer system

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The key to economic development hinges on expanding availability of water and sewer systems outside of Rowan’s municipalities, according to county commissioners.

And, on Monday, commissioners endorsed that idea by approving a series of motions representing the official start to a county-owned water and sewer system.

Rowan County commissioners, during Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting, approved proceeding with initial planning stages of a water and sewer system in the Dukeville and Bostian Heights communities. Commissioners also appointed Chairman Greg Edds and Commissioner Craig Pierce to oversee the county water and sewer effort.

The total estimated cost of water and sewer in the two communities — one near the Rowan-Davidson line along Interstate 85 and the other east of China Grove and Landis — is about $60 million. However, commissioners said they plan to begin with a much smaller system of water lines that would be in the Dukeville community, cost a maximum of $3 million and focus primarily on economic development instead of residential customers.

“They can widen I-85 to 10 lanes each way and all that’s going to do is help people get through Rowan County, not come here,” Pierce said.

Although the study focuses on economic development, Edds said county commissioners hadn’t forgotten about residents of Dukeville with unsafe water wells linked to possible coal-ash-contamination. He didn’t elaborate further, but the water and sewer study shows lines extending to Dukeville residents in later phases of construction.

Initial construction would only be for waterlines in the north study area, according to commissioners. Construction on sewer lines would begin when Rowan County has secured an industrial prospect to build a facility along Long Ferry Road — on a property that’s owned by Duke Energy and referred to as “the Carlton Property.”

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jim Greene said it wouldn’t cost any additional money to construct a county-owned water and sewer system in phases than all at once.

Pierce said he wouldn’t want to raise taxes in order to make a water and sewer system possible. Other commissioners didn’t verbally respond, but nodded their heads in agreement to Pierce’s statement.

Discussion about county water and sewer came as engineering firm McGill Associates presented a water and sewer study that started nearly one year ago.

Pierce and Edds, who led discussion about the water and sewer study, said Rowan County government would likely partner with Salisbury-Rowan Utilities for water service. The county wouldn’t build its own water intake on the Yadkin River. Pierce and Edds said the cost to build an intake and water treatment plant would be too expensive for the intended initial scope.

Rowan County would own the waterlines, pay Salisbury Rowan-Utilities for certain services, charge customers and keep any money generated within Rowan County government, Pierce said.

For now, commissioners and county staff will begin working on a series of action items proposed on Monday by Edds and seconded by Pierce. The action items passed unanimously.

Edds’ action items included: continuing discussions that have already started with Salisbury-Rowan Utilities about a county-owned water system; coordinating with the Department of Transportation to ensure water lines can cross Interstate 85 near the north and south study areas; investigating funding methods; developing a financial model for operation of the system; and soliciting qualifications from engineering firms to design interstate crossings in the north and south areas.

Pierce proposed the commissioners designate two people to comprise a water and sewer study task force. Edds asked Pierce if he would serve on the task force. Pierce accepted and Edds volunteered himself.

Pierce recalled a $5 million effort in the 1970s to build county-wide water and sewer. The $5 million, Pierce said, represented the cost to build a water and sewer system throughout the entire county at the time. Voters in Rowan county had an opportunity to pass county-wide water and sewer on a ballot and voted it down by 300 votes, Pierce said.

“Rowan County is the only county in the surrounding 50-mile radius that doesn’t have water or sewer,” Pierce said. “Neighbors to our north have it. Naturally, Cabarrus and Mecklenburg have it. Davie County has it. What I’m saying is that this is one component we’ve got to have to attract economic development.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.