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Water testing, broadband expansion approved by commissioners

SALISBURY — A new chemical booster station may be needed to ensure residents in northeast Rowan County have water that meets the state’s standards.

After their private groundwater wells were suspected of being contaminated by Duke Energy’s coal production, residents in northeast Rowan County were connected to a municipal water pipeline. The northeast Rowan water line serves a population of about 445 people and includes 155 active metered connections. Salisbury-Rowan Utilities has been monitoring the water in the system by conducting samplings since it was established in 2018.

“When it became a part of the county system, we had to, on their behalf, monitor for lead and copper sampling every six months,” said Jim Behmer, director of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities. “To do that, there is a minimum of 10 samples required. Since it is a relatively small system, you have to have at least 9 of the 10 be under the action level.”

In the time that Salisbury-Rowan Utilities has been monitoring the system, several of the samples have come back higher than the “action” level, which prompted the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to designate that a chemical booster station is built.

However, before building the station, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners says it wants to ensure it is necessary. To do so, they approved a contract with Hazen and Sawyer in collaboration with Virginia Tech to conduct sample site assessments, corrosion control testing and water quality analysis.

The corrosion control testing will cost the county $47,500, but could save the county more money by preventing the construction of a booster station. 

“If we can spend $47,000 more and put this baby to bed and not have to go through all of this other rigamarole, then we could save ourselves a lot of money,” Commissioner Judy Klusman said.

If the booster station is eventually deemed necessary, it would likely cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.

About five of the residents who currently rely on the northeastern water line have been provided with standard water filters to help eliminate traces of lead or copper from their water until a more permanent solution is found, Behmer said.

In other business from Tuesday’s meeting:

• Rural parts of Rowan County could soon have their broadband internet connection bolstered.

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved a proposal from Waxhaw-based Open Broadband to bring better internet connection to underserved parts of the county. The approved proposal will cost Rowan County $50,000, but it will also require the use of $200,000 in coronavirus relief funds.

Now that the commissioners approved the proposal, the county will work with Open Broadband to prepare an official contract. The clock is ticking on the project, since the federal timeframe for spending Coronavirus relief funding is currently Dec. 31.

“I’ve asked them that we need to move pretty quickly on that to get the contract in place and work on a payment plan,” said Randy Cress, assistant county manager.

Based on a report put together by the Rowan County Broadband Task Force, Open Broadband will focus on improving internet connection in the western and southeastern parts of the county. The company’s proposed plan for reaching those areas includes a hybrid network design that utilizes both fiber cables and wireless connections.

The need for broadband has been pressing for some time but never more so than now when more people are relying on the internet for work and school.

“The goal is to get service up as quickly as possible for citizens that have to telecommute or have children at home that are doing homeschooling, things like that,” Cress said.

Cress said that the official contract for Open Broadband will be considered by commissioners at an upcoming meeting.

• The Rowan County Board of Commissioners scheduled a public hearing regarding the solar moratorium to be held at its next meeting on Oct. 5. The public hearing will come a day before the moratorium on large solar farms is set to expire for the second time. 

The first six-month solar moratorium was put in place in October and was extended in April to give the planning board more time to research and develop a method for the county to consider large solar farm applications in the future. Restrictions due to COVID-19 health concerns made that process difficult and prohibited substantial progress from being made.

“We as a staff had not had any real meaningful interactions or conversations with the planning board on this topic,” said Ed Muire, the director of Rowan County’s Planning and Development department. “As such, we have conveyed to the citizens in this community who have been interested in this topic as well as those in the industry that it is highly the staff recommend to the commissioners extend the moratorium to a point where we can do what we do.”

• Commissioners heard a presentation from PORT, the Post Overdose Response Team, about the work they have conducted in the year since they were founded.

• A litter report told commissioners that Rowan County staff members removed 17,410 pounds of roadside debris and litter from Aug. 3-14. During that time, three dumping events were assigned to the Rowan County environmental crimes enforcement officer for investigation.

• The board approved a request to zone a parcel of land at the southwest corner of Long Ferry Road and Front Creed Road as Commercial, Business, Industrial.

• Commissioners elected not to take up the matter of approving or denying a request made by the Rowan-Salisbury School System to submit a needs-based public school capital fund grant application. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education previously approved the grant application at a meeting in August.

• The board approved a permit to exceed request from Dorsett Chapel United Church of God for the church to celebrate its 107th anniversary on Oct. 4. The church sought the request because it plans on playing music and preaching in the outdoor space behind its church building.

•The commissioners approved several board appointments, including: Patrick Phifer to the position of Cleveland Community Volunteer Fire Department commissioner; Sue Choat to fill the remainder of a term for the East Gold Hill Volunteer Fire Department commissioner; Cpt. Aaron Lewis Roberts to a vacant seat on the Local Emergency Planning Committee; Cathy Griffin for reappointment to the Rowan County Zoning Board of Adjustment; Don Bringle for reappointment to serve as one of the county’s lodging members for the Tourism Development Authority; Vivian Hopkins to fill the county attraction seat for the Tourism Development Authority; and Carla Rose for the vacant optometrist position, Dr. Amy Wilson for the vacant physician position and Derrick Caldwell for the vacant veterinarian position on the Health Board.

Although Rose isn’t a trained optometrist and Caldwell isn’t a veterinarian, they are allowed to fill the roles until an optometrist or veterinarian is appointed.

The commission also approved exceptions for Dr. Carol Ann Cody to serve past her term limitations on the Adult Care Home Advisory Committee and Delores Elliot to serve past her term limits on the Nursing Home Advisory Committee.

It was noted during the meeting that there are currently over 60 advisory board vacancies. The commissioners discussed improving recruiting efforts to fill those positions.

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