Pittsboro reaches deal in permit dispute, but town’s wastewater capacity still in peril

Posted 5/17/19

PITTSBORO — After 11 months of meetings and negotiations, the Town of Pittsboro has agreed to a deal with Chatham Park Investors and the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality that will settle a legal …

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Pittsboro reaches deal in permit dispute, but town’s wastewater capacity still in peril

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PITTSBORO — After 11 months of meetings and negotiations, the Town of Pittsboro has agreed to a deal with Chatham Park Investors and the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality that will settle a legal dispute about permitting for the town’s proposed force main and sewer line to Sanford.

The settlement was announced by town attorney Paul Messick at Monday’s Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting and came after an update at the meeting from town engineer Elizabeth Goodson conveying that the town’s wastewater capacity is nearing its threshold for its permit for the state.

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 project, which would nearly triple Pittsboro’s wastewater capacity from 750,000 gallons a day (.75 MGD) to 2.75 million gallons a day, is estimated to cost about $19,790,000.

In a letter last year dated May 3 from DEQ to the town of Pittsboro, then-interim director Linda Culpepper noted that “it has recently come to the Division of Water Resource’s 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 and when asked last month by the News + Record, DEQ representatives stated it would not comment further due to ongoing litigation. The letter triggered petitions for a hearing from both the town and Chatham Park Investors with the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings.

Messick announced the settlement agreement noting that both DEQ and Chatham Park Investors had approved the settlement deal, but it still required a vote by the board in order to complete the settlement. Chatham Park Investors agreed to track stormwater control measures and design evaluation scores on a website accessible to both the town and the state. The control measures and design evaluations scores were already required by the Chatham Park Stormwater Additional Element which was passed by the town last year.

Chatham Park Investors also agreed in the settlement to introduce several text amendments increasing riparian buffers as listed in the Chatham Park Open Space Element, which also passed last year. Because changes to town ordinances require several processes by law including public hearings, the town was only required to consider the amendments at a future date in the settlement. In exchange, the state agreed to not require any additional mitigation strategies as the current measures require at least as much control and buffer as required by state law and to rescind its May 2018 letter.

The settlement seemed timely since earlier in the evening, Goodson, the town’s engineer, announced that the town’s wastewater capacity was near its limits and required the board to consider options for future allocations. Goodson noted that daily flow at the town’s wastewater treatment plant was estimated to have increased by 100,000 gallons to about 503,000. The town has already permitted another 113,040 gallons that have not yet begun sending flow to the plant with another 118,094 gallons that have been allocated but not permitted. This means the town’s remaining capacity is just 15,924 gallons.

As such, Goodson requested the board consider options such as allocating to 110 percent of capacity, noting that allocations can take several years before they actually begin to flow to the plant. With the settlement which would allow both the force main project to Sanford and Chatham Park’s reclamation plant to proceed, the town may be able to see increased capacity over time increase as projects come online. The force main project, Messick noted, is likely two years away from completion while Chatham Park’s reclamation plant is anticipated to be open later this year or early next year. However, Goodson also noted that future allocation recipients would need to be informed of the fact that they were being allocated beyond capacity and that if wastewater projects were delayed, their allocations may not be available.

Several projects requesting allocations were also on the agenda on Monday for retail sites in Pittsboro. One request, an allocation by Mosaic for 24,000 gallons per day, was rescinded by the developer, Kirk Bradley, in consideration of the time the project will take to complete, in order to allow for other smaller allocations to proceed. (Bradley is a part-owner of the News + Record.)

The board provided guidance to Goodson to create updated wastewater allocation guidelines which included approval up to 110 percent capacity, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The board also directed Goodson to create a significant communication strategy to ensure all applicants were aware of the situation. The revised guidelines will return to the board for their review and consideration within the next few weeks.

Even with the town’s wastewater capacity in peril and expansion projects in jeopardy, several commissioners were hesitant to consider the settlement document with DEQ at the meeting. Messick noted that it would be in the town’s best interest to agree to the settlement on Monday at the board meeting though offered little reason as to why. However, questions regarding the permitting process and the status of the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Water Infrastructure Division’s for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program that was approved for the town to use to secure a low-interest loan for the forcemain project may indicate the reason for the urgency.

Commissioner John Bonitz noted he had “questions and concerns” that he wanted addressed. He expressed concerns that the settlement agreed to measures that were less restrictive than ordinances that were already in place in the town. On several occasions, both Messick and Goodson assured Bonitz that the settlement agreement did not have any effect on current ordinances and their enforcement as any change to an ordinance requires a process outlined by statute. The settlement agreement guidelines were merely what the state agreed to accept as mitigation measures. Even with these assurances, Bonitz voted against the settlement along with Commissioner Bett Wilson Foley. Commissioners Jay Farrell, Michael Fiocco and Pam Baldwin all voted for the settlement which passed with a 3-2 vote.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com

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