Briar Chapel-Fearrington wastewater situation still up in the air; next hearing set for September

Posted 6/5/20

The uncertain and ongoing saga of whether or not Briar Chapel’s wastewater facility will take on Fearrington Village’s sewage — thus creating a regional wastewater treatment plant, to the …

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Briar Chapel-Fearrington wastewater situation still up in the air; next hearing set for September

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Posted

The uncertain and ongoing saga of whether or not Briar Chapel’s wastewater facility will take on Fearrington Village’s sewage — thus creating a regional wastewater treatment plant, to the outcry of many Briar Chapel residents — is set to roll on through summer and into fall.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission, originally scheduled to meet June 16 to hear expert witnesses in the case, has now delayed the hearing until September.

Meanwhile, three community groups have been accepted as intervenors to the case while Chatham North, the organization which would operate the regional plant, continues to make its case to state officials.

The proposed wastewater transfer — originally sought last August by Chatham North and Fitch Creations, which operates Fearrington Village — would direct wastewater from Fearrington Village to Briar Chapel, expanding the latter’s WWTP’s footprint to handle the new intake. Many Briar Chapel residents — more than 600 signed a petition against the move presented at a public hearing earlier this year — have expressed concern over ONSWC’s previous handling of wastewater within the neighborhood, citing poor customer service, the unpleasant odor coming from the current treatment plant and improper dispersion of reclaimed water.

Individuals and groups interested in the case were allowed to submit testimony through May by different deadlines, but in mid-May, the Public Staff of the NCUC asked that the commission reschedule the June 16 hearing “to an unspecified date in September that is available on the Commission’s calendar to allow the Public Staff and intervenors time to further investigate and prepare testimony on issues in this case.”

The change would also, the document confirming the hearing rescheduling stated, “provide Chatham North and Old North State [Water Company, the parent entity of Chatham North] an opportunity to further develop and implement procedures and operational modifications to resolve customer service issues.”

StopChathamNorth, a community group created to oppose the transfer, and the Briar Chapel Community Association have said they support the motion. StopChathamNorth and the BCCA were allowed to be intervenors on April 13, with the Fearrington HOA joining on May 14. The trio’s petitions to intervene each fell along the same lines: they expressed concern about the ripple effects of such a transfer:

• StopChathamNorth cites “the affect on rates and adverse impact to quality of service that it believes may result from the approval of the requested transfer of the utility franchise.”

• The Fearrington HOA said it is concerned with rates and service, as well as “negative impacts of constructing a force main, which it believes will ‘plow through the 300-foot set aside that buffers the Fearrington Village community from development adjacent to Highway 15-501.’”

• The BCCA stated it will “dispute significant portions of the representations and assertions made” by Old North State during a January 14 public hearing.

During these petitions, Chatham North officials have been making their case to the NCUC that changes are being made and concerns are being heard.

John McDonald, the vice president and secretary of Chatham North who also maintains a majority ownership interest in the organization, told commission staff during a May 1 testimony that plans were in the works to construct a “greenhouse-type structure.” The construction “would enclose the reclaimed water treatment plant,” McDonald said, and surrounding facilities at a cost of $1.535 million, if the NCUC were to detemine that “the enclosure of the plant is necessary to mitigate off-site impacts and would be used and useful in the operation of the utility.”

Lee Bowman, the director of project and corporate development for Envirolink, a Chatham North contractor, said in testimony given May 1 that the merger of the treatment systems would help both Fearrington and Briar Chapel, and work as “being very much a proverbial ‘win-win.’”

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

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