Greg Edds: Rowan needs infrastructure, not missed opportunities

Published 12:23 am Sunday, January 14, 2018

By Greg Edds

Special to the Salisbury Post

Strategic investments in infrastructure must be done to capitalize on one of Rowan County’s greatest assets, available land. Without available water and sewer, these parcels are just vacant fields.

On Feb. 7, 1972, Jim Epting of the State Commerce and Industry Department and Sonny Epting, executive vice president of the Rowan Chamber of Commerce, spoke to Rowan County commissioners about the need for a countywide water/sewer system to attract badly needed industry. At their next meeting on Feb. 16, 1972, commissioners were presented with a feasibility study that recommended the creation of the “Rowan Metropolitan Water System.” A motion unanimously passed to send a bond referendum to the voters for approval.

The $5 million bond referendum appeared on the May 6 primary ballot. Interestingly, our bond referendum shared the ballot with a $150 million statewide water infrastructure bond referendum. North Carolina’s referendum passed overwhelmingly, 69 percent to 31 percent. Rowan County’s referendum failed by a vote of 8,768 to 7,565.

Almost two years later, on April 2, 1974, the local water/sewer bond issue returned to the Rowan County ballot, this time requesting $2 million for sewer and $6 million for water. Once again, the referendum failed.

Many believe that Rowan’s limited access to water and sewer has contributed greatly to our failure to keep up with regional economic growth.

In our February 2015 goal-setting retreat, commissioners identified water/sewer infrastructure as a critical component to our economic development blueprint and one of our top priorities. In September 2015, the engineering firm McGill Associates presented commissioners a water/sewer feasibility study focused on two industrial sites off of Long Ferry Road and land in southern Rowan along the I-85 corridor.

Long Ferry Road is home to two high-value industrial sites. In 2015, the Carlton site was a newly identified 600-acre site with the potential of up to 5 million square feet of industrial space. The Trevey site is an 80-acre, high-visibility site right off of exit 81. McGill recommended we run water lines down Long Ferry Road, supplying both industrial sites, and down Leonard, Palmer, Dukeville and Kern-Carlton Roads.

Convinced that investments in strategic infrastructure must be made, the board contracted with McGill to begin the design and engineering work for the project. At about the same time, the N.C. Legislature passed House Bill 360 requiring Duke Energy to provide water lines to the Dukeville community. Duke Energy has since partnered with the county to fully fund the $2.5 million phase 1 of the project. Construction on that project is underway and we anticipate completion by October 2018.

Sewer for those industrial sites is a little more complicated. Currently, there is no sewer available on the east side of I-85 on Long Ferry Road. So we worked with Salisbury-Rowan Utilities to secure state permits to bore under I-85 and bring sewer infrastructure to the east side of I-85 on Long Ferry Road. The design work has been completed, the state permits have been granted, and the project is shovel-ready. However, instead of using local dollars to fund that project, we anticipate that the state will provide economic development construction funding once we have identified an employer interested in building on one of those sites.

In southern Rowan, the Old Beatty’s Ford Road interchange project has been decades in the making. Elected officials, past and present, have advocated for this project, as have our DOT board members and district engineers. Local landowners and developers deserve a tremendous amount of credit for tirelessly pushing this project down the bureaucratic road.

In 2015, the Old Beatty Ford Road interchange was on the state’s transportation improvement plan, but the timeline for construction stretched out as far as 2022. In 2016, working through our Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), we were able to rally MPO representatives from our neighboring communities, our DOT board members, state and local officials and our chamber to convince DOT officials to greatly accelerate the project and make it part of the current I-85 widening project. We were also able to convince the DOT to increase the number of lanes on the new bridge over I-85 from three lanes to five to accommodate future growth.

In 2017, the DOT settled on the final location of the new interchange. Water and sewer lines will need to be placed under I-85 and under the new roads that will make up the new interchange, so we contracted to have design and engineering work done to install underground “utility casings” while the new interchange is being built. It’s a lot cheaper to do this now than to bore under existing roads later.

Landowners and developers have begun work on development concepts for the new interchange. If the county is investing in new infrastructure, good stewardship requires that we have a strong financial interest in making sure that the proper balance is struck between residential, office, institutional, retail and industrial development.

The fact is, most communities will never have a new interchange built in their county, and this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Rowan. We have a responsibility to make sure it’s done right.

There are times when the commissioners have disagreed on issues, but this isn’t one of them. All five commissioners are committed to making fiscally responsible, strategic investments in water and sewer infrastructure. This is something that should have been done decades ago and for a whole lot less money.

Good jobs, new capital investment and a stronger tax base. That’s the goal. We all say we want that, but Rowan’s history shows that, often times, we haven’t had the vision or the courage to make it happen. Strategically placed infrastructure is a must if we want to see Rowan County move ahead, because land without infrastructure is just a vacant field.

Gregg Edds is chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.