Duke Energy won’t foot full bill for county’s water plans in Dukeville
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — County government may not shoulder the largest financial burden during its first planned water line extension into a rural community, but it won’t be free from costs.
For the past few years, county commissioners have planned details of a water and sewer system that aims to improve economic prospects along Interstate 85. The water and sewer system would be placed in two separate communities — around Long Ferry Road in Dukeville and Interstate 85 between China Grove and Bostian Heights.
County leaders started their efforts before water quality questions came to light in Dukeville, which surrounds Buck Steam Station and will likely be the first to see water lines. However, after the county’s efforts started, a state law dictated that Duke Energy would need to provide permanent, safe sources of water to people who live within a pre-determined distance of coal ash ponds.
On Friday — the second day of commissioners’ planning retreat — County Manager Aaron Church publicly presented the latest financial and logistical details of a plan to extend Salisbury-Rowan Utilities’ water lines into Dukeville.
During his presentation, Church told county commissioners that Duke Energy has agreed to reimburse all engineering and construction costs associated with the Dukeville water lines if 75 percent of eligible residents hook on. Under state law, Duke Energy can also provide a water filtration system for eligible houses, but residents get to pick.
Church wasn’t able to provide firm dates for when construction might wrap up, but state law sets an Oct., 15 2018 as the deadline for Duke to establish permanent, safe water supplies to houses near coal ash ponds.
“Our goal is to finish as quickly as possible,” said Duke Energy representative Randy Welch during Friday’s planning session.
There’s a caveat, however, to Duke’s promise to pay for a water line extension in the Dukeville area. The company has only committed to pay for a 6-inch water line in the area, according to Church. It may be enough to provide water to houses, which the company is required to do under state law. The 6-inch line won’t be enough for manufacturing facilities county officials hope to lure to nearby economic development sites, according to Church and engineers hired by the county.
Rowan County’s plans show a water line double the size of what Duke is willing to pay for extending from Interstate 85 to Dukeville Road. Smaller lines branch out from that main line.
“Duke needs to provide water, per the state statute, within a half-mile radius,” Church said. “Six inches meets that statutory requirement.”
The exact cost differential is unclear. Church projects the cost of a water line to be as high as $8 million. In plans submitted to the state, Duke Energy projects costs at $4.97 million. The cost could vary based on the design of the system.
Welch, a district manager for government and community relations, was noncommittal when asked if Duke Energy would only pay enough to cover the 6 inch line and leave Rowan County to cover the rest.
“We will cover the cost to bring municipal water to houses,” Welch said.
In Church’s Friday presentation, he also told commissioners about how the water line might operate once built. He said customers’ bills would be “less than the average price for county water systems.” The average price, Church said, is $8.30 per 1,000 gallons.
Church also said it’s possible the county’s first water line would operate at a loss for an initial period of time.
During discussion about water and sewer lines on Friday, the only formal vote by commissioners was to allow Church to work with engineers to design how sewer lines might cross the interstate to reach an economic development site.
Friday’s retreat also involved discussion about county-owned water and sewer lines on the southern end of Rowan — near the Bostian Heights community and a planned Old Beatty Ford Road interchange with Interstate 85. On the south end, commissioners didn’t take formal action, but informally agreed to put minimal restrictions in place to guide future development.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246
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