Briar Chapel will likely wait until summer for wastewater future

Posted 2/21/20

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of stories on the proposed wastewater transfer from Fearrington Village to Briar Chapel. The News + Record will continue reporting on this story as it …

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Briar Chapel will likely wait until summer for wastewater future

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Posted

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of stories on the proposed wastewater transfer from Fearrington Village to Briar Chapel. The News + Record will continue reporting on this story as it develops.

CHAPEL HILL — As of now, the proposed transfer of wastewater from the Fearrington Village neighborhood to the Briar Chapel development is more or less stagnant, not sure which way it’s going next.

North Carolina Utilities Commission Staff Attorney William Grantmyre told the News + Record that the commission wouldn’t likely discuss next steps until June, so for the time being, the proposed transfer which garnered more than 600 signatures against it, and a scathing NCUC staff report expressing concerns about it, is on hold.

Old North State Water Company, the firm which oversees operations at the Briar Chapel Wastewater Treatment Plant, said in a report filed with the NCUC earlier this month that they believe the project will lead to “multiple benefits” for residents, particularly in upgrades to the plant and a larger customer base that would “help to mitigate pressures to increase rates to all customers in the future.” The current proposal does not project a rate increase for the near future for either Fearrington or Briar Chapel residents.

What’s next for ONSWC, according to president Michael Myers, is a public relations campaign to restore what he termed a “strained” relationship.

“We’re dedicated to rebuild(ing) it,” Myers said in a phone interview. “I know we have heard the concerns raised by the Briar Chapel residents, and we are working very, very diligently to address those concerns.”

If the proposal is not approved, according to Myers and Fearrington Village developer R.B. Fitch, president of Fitch Creations, both neighborhoods will move on as normal. Myers said the current plant will have to be expanded anyway to accommodate further growth in Briar Chapel, and Fitch told the News + Record that his team would upgrade the current Fearrington facility.

“We’ve added, upgraded and replaced as Fearrington has grown and it can meet the needs of the Fearrington community going forward,” Fitch said. “If the transfer doesn’t happen, we’d upgrade the facility again and continue as a wastewater utility just as we are now.”

However, Fitch added, the “best option” would be a merger, and would benefit residents as Myers said.

“Customers will benefit because costs can be spread over a larger base,” he said. “Larger systems can hire more specialized staff and purchase more advanced and effective equipment. Managing a wastewater system isn’t our core business and we believe at some point it should be handled by a dedicated wastewater utility.”

Newland Communities, the developer of Briar Chapel, said in a statement that it “eagerly awaits” a “resolution of the challenges at hand so that Briar Chapel residents can continue to enjoy a high quality of life.”

“We trust the NCUC to oversee the private, regulated utilities of the Chatham County area, including this proposed transaction,” the statement said.

On the residents’ part, Briar Chapel Community Association Board President Thomas Steer told the News + Record the group has hired an attorney as part of the BCCA’s efforts “to further defend our opposition to the request.”

“The delay is giving Briar Chapel Community the time that was needed to fully gather information and prepare additional testimony in opposition to the merger and expansion,” Speer said. “We are very thankful for the delay that was granted.  We do expect to gather and report additional testimony in the coming weeks.”

He added that residents are “united” and will not change their perspective that “expansion is not beneficial to our community.”

In addition, a group called “StopChathamNorth” has been formed by Briar Chapel residents and others. Group spokesperson Rusty Field says SCN, in shorthand, has nearly 1,800 resident members and has similar motives to the BCCA Board.

“SCN hopes that the NCUC decisions will prevent any expansion of the BC wastewater plant beyond its current capacity until ONSWC/Envirolink proves that it can eliminate all odor from plant and irrigation operations,” Field said. “Additionally, we want the NCUC to make ONSWC/Envirolink comply with all Federal, State and local regulatory requirements. Finally, we want the Commission to consider the proximity of the BC wastewater facility to residents and provide relief to these residents.”

He added that both groups have hired attorneys and those attorneys are in communication.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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