Editorial: Practical plan on county water, sewer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 24, 2015

Rowan County may never have a true countywide water and sewer system. Commissioners, however, are wisely working on a plan that could deliver crucial utilities soonest to areas that need it most. This is a good first step for the county.

Cost estimates thrown around several months ago —$60 million and more — put a scare into taxpayers. As laid out at commissioners’ meeting Monday, phasing in the plan they have in mind is much more doable.

Commissioners clearly want to position the county for major economic development. To that end, getting water lines to two large tracts of land in the north, off I-85 exits 79 and 81, is their first priority. Nearly  1,000 acres are available for development there — a very attractive industrial site once it has utilities. Extending water lines out Long Ferry, Leonard, Kern Carlton, Palmer and Dukeville roads is expected to cost about $3.3 million. That’s not peanuts, but it sounds a lot better than $60 million.

For the county to establish its own intake on the river and build water- and wastewater-treatment plants would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and require years of permitting steps. It would also duplicate a system the city already has. As Chairman Greg Edds and Commissioner Craig Pierce said more than once, this county cannot wait years to get its economy going again. Instead, the commissioners appear on track to start a county water district and lay county lines, and then buy treated water from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.

People in the more populous southern end of the county may be disappointed their area is not in the first phase that commissioners have in mind. Edds and Pierce reasoned that the design and implementation of an Old Beatty Ford Road interstate interchange is still several years away, so the need for water lines there is not as pressing.

The next step in advancing the north Rowan line is working out an interlocal agreement with Salisbury while exploring all funding sources, including being part of a state bond referendum in the spring. The county and city should aim for a firm agreement that satisfies both parties, with no surprises or gotchas.

Commissioners talked Monday about a $3.3 million water line and a $7 million sewer line just days after the county Airport Board learned a needed runway extension could cost $24 million. These plans are adding up to real money. That’s all the more reason to take the practical approach and work with Salisbury on the water plan. Funding challenges are great;  investing in duplication would be a waste of money.