PITTSBORO — Town leaders are working hard to address Pittsboro’s pervasive water contamination issues, but the price for clean water keeps going up.
Pittsboro’s water supply, drawn from the Haw River, has received widespread attention across the state and country after scientists and researchers discovered in recent years that it was teeming with carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS. Other harmful chemicals such as 1, 4 dioxane are similarly found in higher-than-normal concentrations as compared to water supplies nationwide.
In the board’s Jan. 11 meeting, town staff, in partnership with CDM Smith — an engineering and construction company which provides water solutions for government and private clients — advised the board to adopt a plan for tiered installation of various treatment methods starting with a “fast-track” option that could operate within a year.
The filtration method, known as granular activated coal (GAC), would filter approximately 90% of all PFAS from the drinking supply and could facilitate at least one million gallons per day (mgd), more than enough for the town’s water demands on all but the hottest days of the year.
But the “fast-track” GAC system requires metal tanks that are rising in demand.
“Right now, PFAS is a problem all over the country,” said Reed Barton, a CDM Smith engineer, at the board’s regular meeting on Monday. “These vessels are one of the main approaches to fixing it, and there’s a long line.”
The steel market is “volatile,” he said, and tank prices are quickly inflating. “And when we say (prices) are volatile, it’s only headed in one direction — it’s going up.”
To keep up with price inflation and to reserve a “spot in line,” Town Manager Chris Kennedy requested a budget amendment to allocate an extra $1.2 million for town staff to use in securing a GAC system.
“The total project cost has ballooned somewhat on us,” he said.
In total, with everything operational, the project would cost $2.5 million to $3 million, including the unforeseen $1.2 million. But Kennedy assured the board that he and town staff were confident in the return on investment. While the upfront cost is hefty, it is probably the lowest it will be for a long time, and it will continue to meet the town’s needs even as its population swells.
“The size we’re looking at is oversized for the 1 mgd reality, but it is sized appropriately for us to expand the operation to fit neatly so we don’t have redundant purchases down the road,” Kennedy said. “So, there has been some consideration that, again, if you’re going to spend the money, spend good money after a good solution so that you don’t have to go back in a couple years.”
After some deliberation, commissioners agreed to approve the budget amendment and authorize Kennedy to begin immediate negotiations with vendors to secure the GAC tanks and the filtration medium.
Kennedy assured the board that quick results would ensue.
“In 60 days, we’ll have a two-thirds design, we’ll have a guaranteed max price, we’ll have ordered our vessels, and have ordered the GAC and be in line for all those things to come together,” he said. “So, in essence of the larger project, we’ll be in excellent shape in just a short period of time.”
To cover short-term costs, the town will probably withdraw funds from its own coffer, but eventually, the expense will be displaced by higher water rates.
“With the way our retained earnings is now, with the demand of just maintenance that we have to perform,” Kennedy said, “... our current rate system can’t absorb a project of this scale. And so, unfortunately, it’s going to have to impact that unless we can find some other ways to do it.”
He suggested that low-interest loans may help to mitigate the town’s financial burden over the next several years.
Town staff, and the experts at CDM Smith, anticipate water needs of 6 mgd in Pittsboro by 2040. Eventually, when all long-term development has completed — notably the Chatham Park community, which will introduce as many as 50,000 new residents or more — the town will require 14 mgd.
In coming years, the town plans to introduce additional filtration systems and begin construction of an expanded water treatment facility. The complete project will cost at least $42 million.
North Woods community
Three residents of the North Woods community — a private neighborhood of 17 landowners northeast of downtown — attended Monday’s meeting to request the commissioners stop NCDOT from proceeding with road construction through their land.
The town, in partnership with NCDOT and Chatham Park Investors, has sponsored development of the North Chatham Park Way, a projected 2.7-mile road that will extend the existing Chatham Park Way up to U.S. Hwy. 15-501.
The property owners hope NCDOT will shift the road’s trajectory to pass through Chatham Park land, immediately east of North Woods.
“Chatham Park’s encroachment onto private lands would be bleak for the future of North Woods,” said Diana Dalsimer, one of the neighborhoods landowners. “... What we are asking is for the NCDOT in partnership with Chatham Park to reevaluate the current alignment of North Chatham Park Way. Create a model that utilizes as much Chatham Park land as possible while preserving established neighborhoods and private parcels.”
Ducka Kelly another North Woods resident, has been attending public hearings and town board meetings for years tracking the Chatham Park Way’s development.
“It has always seemed as though our little hamlet would remain intact,” she said. “Quite by surprise things changed when we found out at the end of Dec. 2020 and the beginning of Jan. 2021 that the north Chatham Park Way alignment has shifted west just far enough to cut through our neighborhood and somehow was moved off of Chatham Park land.”
The road, as it is currently designed, will cut through three privately owned North Woods properties, bisecting the neighborhood with a proposed four-lane highway.
“The proposed alignment cuts through and divides our neighborhood and my land,” said Mark Pavao, who owns one of North Wood’s largest lots. “The proposed section on my land is about 200 yards west of land owned by Chatham Park.”
To solicit help from their Pittsboro neighbors, the North Woods neighbors launched a change.org petition last month requesting NCDOT adjust its North Chatham Park Way. So far, about 2,800 have signed.
The board discussed three land development and ordinance decisions at its meeting on Monday.
• Rezoning request from Eco Northwood MUPD, LLC
In its last meeting, the board entertained a public hearing to consider Northwood MUPD’s proposed amendment to zoning of a parcel between U.S. Hwy. 64 and Northwood High School Road for a multi-use planned development (MUPD). A sliver of the land was omitted from consideration when the property was first rezoned three years ago and remains zoned for rural agricultural use.
Development has not begun on the land. Eco Northwood originally proposed an 18-lot community with a maximum of 21 lots. It has amended their proposal to include 26 lots.
Monday’s discussion was a continuation of the public hearing. The commissioners voted to close the hearing and defer official action to its next meeting.
• Zoning text amendment — accessory dwelling units and secondary
The town’s planning department staff requested the town revise its accessory dwelling unit policies and secondary ingress and egress. The commissioners discussed amendments briefly, but tabled the issue for a later meeting.
• Town hall site plan
The commissioners approved a town hall site plan and sewer allocation, as discussed in previous board meetings, and authorized Hobbs Architects to go to bid.
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @dldolder.
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Regarding the budget items for the treatment of Pittsboro's water, what I understood from this last Town Board meeting (and preceding ones) was actually this. The $1.2 million for the two large steel tanks is not an "unforeseen" extra cost. Rather the Town was expecting to only pay for design and permitting right now, with equipment and installation costs of extra piping to come. Since the plan was to have this project completed within 12-15 months, but the lead-time (wait) for the tanks was currently 7 months, the Board was asked if they wanted to go ahead and order the tanks now. So paying earlier was not foreseen a month ago, but the tanks were always included in the project, and in the original rough estimate.
As stated in the article, increases in steel prices may have increased the costs of the tanks, but not by $1.2 million. (That total also includes the first load of the granulated activated charcoal (GAC) that would filter the PFAS -- and other contaminants -- out of the water.)
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