PITTSBORO — Wastewater woes have troubled Pittsboro for years, but some town officials hope solutions are within reach.
Commissioner Kyle Shipp, along with Interim Town Manager Hazen Blodgett and Engineering Director Kent Jackson, led a two-hour discussion on how the town’s sewer and water capacities reached their current states — with demand currently threatening to outpace space — during Monday’s board meeting.
Shipp, who focused most of the presentation on ways for Pittsboro to move forward, said the past can help inform future agreements as the town addresses capacity issues.
“What I really want to focus on is where we’re at today and where we can go in the future,” he said.
Moratoriums on development in Pittsboro date back to 1999 and span through 2011, when the town implemented functional limits on sewer capacity.
Pittsboro’s wastewater treatment plant was constructed in 1977, with a major upgrade completed in 1989; it has a current capacity of 750,000 gallons of wastewater a day. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) allowed the town in 2021 to use up to 90% of the capacity, at 675,000 gallons, where Pittsboro’s wastewater capacity sits today.
Shipp said as the Chatham Park Water Recovery Center starts up and with the expected increased capacity from the Sanford force main, which is looking to open in 2024, Pittsboro’s capacity should expand to 1.25 million gallons a day. A force main is a pressurized sewer pipe to transport wastewater.
At the start of Monday’s meeting, commissioners also accepted a state revolving loan of more than $26,000,000 from the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality for the purposes of constructing Wastewater Treatment System Improvements.
Shipp also said based on estimates from a report provided by Freese and Nichols — a privately owned engineering, planning and consulting firm Pittsboro hired to explore the town’s capacity options — the town will be out of water capacity around 2024 or 2025 with the current plan of 2 million gallons a day. Pittsboro’s Water Plant was built in 1964, and is currently handling about one quarter of its production capacity.
The Western Intake Partnership — a raw water intake and pump station out of Jordan Lake — would see an additional 6 million gallons a day for Pittsboro, but is only expected to be operational by 2030. Shipp also noted there is also an agreement between Chatham Park and Sanford directly for a 3 million-gallon-a-day water line, which would stretch from VinFast’s Moncure megasite up to the town of Pittsboro and is expected to open around 2026.
Shipp also walked through projections of how Pittsboro’s water and sewer capacities will change as the Sanford-Pittsboro water system merger takes place:
• By 2026, Pittsboro could have 5 million gallons a day of water treatment and 5.49 million gallons a day of sewer treatment
• By 2035, Pittsboro could have 15 million gallons a day of water treatment and 8.22 million gallons a day of sewer treatment
As the merger takes place, Commissioner John Bonitz raised questions about how utility rates will change and how the town is planning for the capacity expansions.
“We need to have a plan for that, whether or not Sanford has a plan,” Bonitz said. “Is our plan just to throw ourselves at the mercy of Sanford? That doesn’t sound very good, if we’re giving up all of our infrastructure and then we don’t have any control or say on future rate-setting — I hope we don’t go there.”
Blodgett said staff and town officials don’t know the details of the merger, but the issues raised by Bonitz can be addressed as the town moves forward with Sanford.
“We have certain interests we need to protect and Sanford’s got interests they need to protect,” he said. “I think, ultimately, it’s in the best interest of the region — the state understands this, that’s what y’all went through, is that distress [designation]. So it’s really like small communities probably need to get out of the water and sewer business long-term, and I think it’s smart for us to be ahead of the curve with all the development here, not only adjacent to us but this region is exploding. We need to be part of that.”
Since opening bids for the Sanford force main infrastructure project on Nov. 8, Jackson said the town has received four bids each for two contracts they are considering. The first contract, with the base bid priced at $15,481,000, would convert the Wastewater Treatment Plant to an equalization station and a lift station to collect and transmit wastewater to Sanford. The second contract focuses on the effluent connection and line work for the force main to get down to Sanford — the base bid for the second contract was $39,588,650.
Jackson said the Wooten Company and staff are examining specifications and the bid to identify potential value of engineering or cost savings that could be realized for the contracts. He said in the next 90 days, the town needs to identify a financing strategy for the force main projects.
In considering the sewer service area, Jackson said the town also has a grant to create a Wastewater Master Plan in 2023.
“That’s important for a number of reasons, specific to tonight’s discussion,” he said. “And we need to understand what is our ultimate sewer demand or what do we estimate, analyze, is our future sewer demand.”
Both the town and Sanford expect to receive a report from Freese and Nichols on Dec. 13.
Reporter Maydha Devarajan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @maydhadevarajan.