Delays, dispute threaten Pittsboro’s sewer line

Posted 4/19/19

PITTSBORO — The construction of Pittsboro’s proposed force main and sewer transmission line to Sanford appears to be delayed due to a dispute between the Town of Pittsboro, Chatham Park Investors …

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Delays, dispute threaten Pittsboro’s sewer line

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PITTSBORO — The construction of Pittsboro’s proposed force main and sewer transmission line to Sanford appears to be delayed due to a dispute between the Town of Pittsboro, Chatham Park Investors and the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality, based on documents obtained by the News + Record, threatening the town’s ability to treat wastewater for new customers.

The Pittsboro Board of Commissioners approved the construction of a force main — a pipeline that will carry wastewater from Pittsboro to Sanford’s Big Buffalo Wastewater Treatment Plant — in 2015. The town’s small wastewater treatment plant is nearing its capacity if all projects with allocations were to request permits, according to statements made by the town’s engineer, Elizabeth Goodson, during multiple board meetings.

Delaying the force main could conceivably threaten Pittsboro’s ability to provide wastewater treatment to any new customers because of limited capacity.

Pittsboro Town Manager Bryan Gruesbeck had previously noted to the News + Record that the town needs more wastewater capacity “because property owners are seeking to build businesses and homes in Pittsboro and the town lacks the capacity at its wastewater treatment plant to treat the wastewater that is created by the proposed businesses and homes.” He added that if Pittsboro continues to lack the capacity at its wastewater treatment plant, “it will continue to be limited in its ability to allow the businesses and homes to be built.”

The project, which would more than triple Pittsboro’s wastewater capacity from 750,000 gallons a day (.75 MGD) to 2.75 million gallons a day, is estimated to cost approximately $19,790,000. In February 2016, the town received notice that the force main project had been approved for the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Water Infrastructure Division’s for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. That allows the town to secure a low-interest loan from the fund the project. The letter sent to the town provides a table of milestones the town must meet to secure the loan. Those dates included a required execution of a construction contract by February 2018.

But more than a year down the road, Cathy Akroyd, the public information officer for DEQ’s Water Infrastructure Division, noted the only milestone reached thus far was the receipt of an Engineering Report. But the report, and an extension for the project, have been granted.

“The funding process allows the Division of Water Infrastructure to put the process on hold while a town (in this case, Pittsboro) deals with environmental issues, as long as they are making reasonable progress in the eyes of the Division of Water Infrastructure, in consultation with the Division of Water Resources,” Akroyd said.

Those environmental issues are holding up the town’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) renewal application. The NPDES permit specifies an acceptable level of a pollutant in a discharge in order to protect water quality. When asked about the specific issues holding up the permit, DEQ told the News + Record that the environmental issues were subject to pending litigation and the agency was unable to comment further.

According to documents obtained by the News + Record from the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, both Pittsboro and Chatham Park Investors filed petitions for a hearing last June against the DEQ’s Division of Water Resources. The suit appears to hinge on a letter dated May 3 of last year from the department to the town of Pittsboro sent from Linda Culpepper, who was interim director at the time. Culpepper has since been named its permanent director.

In the letter, Culpepper notes that “it has recently come to the Division of Water Resource’s (Division) attention that commitments and mitigation strategies included in the Environmental Impact Statement,” which was filed in 2010, “are not being implemented and enforced within the Pittsboro service area.” The letter did not include any specific areas or ways that the town was not adhering to the statement. When asked by the News + Record, DEQ representatives stated they would not comment further because of ongoing litigation. Additional requests about the subject made to DEQ by the News + Record have gone unanswered.

The 2010 Environmental Impact Statement was submitted in conjunction with the town’s request to increase its wastewater capacity and discharge volume into Robeson Creek and the Haw River so that it could expand its current wastewater treatment plant. The permit was approved, expanding the discharge permit from .75 million gallons a day to Robeson Creek and adding an additional 2.47 million gallons a day into the Haw River. Pittsboro’s board of commissioners instead chose to construct a force main transmission line to Sanford. Previously, Gruesbeck noted that the board chose the force main over expansion because “it was lower in initial cost by approximately $4 million dollars, as well as future phase costs (approximately $13 million).” Gruesbeck added that “expanding the existing wastewater treatment plant would not satisfy the state’s requirements to reduce nitrogen load limits as part of the Jordan Lake Rules which seeks to reduce the discharge of regulated chemicals and compounds into Jordan Lake.”

While the force main to Sanford would not put any additional discharge into Robeson Creek or the Haw River — and considering the current plant is not able to reduce the nutrient content into Robeson Creek to State’s requirements as part of the Jordan Lake Rules — the answer to what mitigation strategies are not being enforced remains unclear. While the “direct impacts” listed in the Environmental Impact Statement would seem to be moot in this case, it appears the “indirect impacts” with regard to development are where the dispute lies.

In the 20-page section of the Environmental Impact Statement entitled “Mitgative Measures,” the document outlines that “development can be guided toward areas planned for smart development and away from areas with valued environmental or rural qualities.” The documents list regulations within both Pittsboro and Chatham County’s ordinances that encourage mixed use, preservation, open space and protections for water quality, wetlands and wildlife.

Last November, the Haw River Assembly filed a request to intervene in the proceedings between DEQ and Pittsboro and Chatham Park. The filed motion notes concerns about stormwater runoff and its effects on the Haw River. The motion claimed that “Chatham Park would exacerbate existing water quality problems by significantly increasing stormwater runoff, sedimentation, and nutrient loading.” The motion states that the Division of Water Resources “does not adequately represent the Haw River Assembly’s interest in this matter.”

Later that month, both Pittsboro and Chatham Park Investors filed an objection to the Haw River Assembly’s motion to intervene. The response notes that “Haw River Assembly alleges — without any factual showing whatsoever — that the development of Chatham Park will harm the Haw River... Contrary to the Haw River Assembly’s insinuations, the subject of this action is neither Chatham Park nor the speculative environmental impacts the Haw River Assembly alleges Chatham Park may have.” The response also notes that the “NPDES Permit does not address town stormwater controls, which are governed by separate regulatory programs” nor does it include “ordinance predictions or other Environmental Impact Statement text as conditions.”

The filing notes that while the town has not implemented stormwater-related ordinances overall, it has adopted them for the Chatham Park development which go beyond state mandates. This includes “control of stormwater quantity, quality, velocity and other parameters, but also require riparian buffers and dedication of open space, among other stormwater-related control measures.” The response also notes that Chatham Park, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has established the Chatham Umbrella Mitigation Bank which includes its first site, a permanent conservation easement along Stinking Creek near a section of the Jordan Lake Reservoir.

In March of this year, the Haw River Assembly’s request to intervene was denied.

While the discussions between the town, Chatham Park, and the DEQ are likely ongoing, if the parties cannot reach a settlement in the dispute, the case will go before an administrative judge the week of May 27. The impact of the permit is that current and future development in Pittsboro could be affected. At each board meeting in which a business owner or residential developer requests a sewer allocation, the board is reminded that the town’s wastewater treatment plant is at 90 percent capacity on paper. At the same time, the town’s plant is currently releasing nutrient-load discharge beyond the state’s regulations as part of the Jordan Lake Rules into the impaired waters of Robeson Creek.

The News + Record will continue to follow this as it develops.

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