SILER CITY — The town of Siler City was placed under a moratorium last May regarding sewer capacity, preventing new developments from being tapped into the town’s sewer system. Now, eight months later, Public Utilities Director Chris McCorquodale says the town and the state are close to agreeing on conditions for a Special Order by Consent (SOC), which would place harsher restrictions on what Siler City’s wastewater facility can discharge.
“We have an internal meeting ... and then we’re going to try to make any request changes that we feel like we want to make to it and get that back to the state by the 20th,” McCorquodale said.
Siler City’s sewer moratorium came about the same time Town Manager Hank Raper joined the staff. The N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality cited several violations of the Clean Water Act, including elevated nitrogen levels — some above 800% of permitted limits — in wastewater discharges.
The moratorium prevents the town from adding new sewer connections, effectively putting a halt to developments in Siler City’s planning jurisdiction.
According to Raper, the town has received the final draft of an SOC in collaboration with NCDEQ. The SOC is the most significant step toward lifting the allocation restrictions on new sewer lines, Raper said.
“Think of the SOC as a contract between the town and the state where both sides are agreeing to these terms,” he said. “It’s what we’ve been working toward for the last year … it’s been a process since the middle of May, and it’s interesting to see that process through so now that we can really get the work started that we’ve been fighting for all this time.”
McCorquodale said the state and the town have come to an agreement on milestones that need to be achieved in order to lift the moratorium. He said as the town wastewater and sewer treatment facility reaches certain achievements, it will be allowed a limited allocation of additional sewer taps.
“The main thing that we’re looking at is what type of sewer allocation that we can receive throughout the rest of our SOC,” he said. “Once we hit these milestones that they’re requesting, [there will be a] type of release will they give us so that we can distribute that amongst developers and stuff.”
McCorquodale said his department has already worked on addressing some of the issues highlighted in the moratorium. A temporary sludge removal process was implemented to help the town’s plant get through the colder, wet months, which was one of the requirements the state implemented in the moratorium.
McCorquodale also said part of the reason addressing the moratorium has been a lengthy process is because NCDEQ has to sign off or approve what steps the town has taken to address the issues.
“They [the state] wanted us to reissue our pre-treatment permits and submit them to the state and I’ve done that also, so I’m just waiting for those back from the state so I can issue them to our industries,” McCorquodale said. “I had to rewrite a pretreatment program for the water plant, and we have done that too, and it’s been issued to the state.”
McCorquodale added that while the moratorium does put a pause on future developments in Siler City, it won’t have an impact on existing lines and current customers.
“The only impact it will have on current residents is if they’re trying to build a home that doesn’t already have sewer,” he said. “No new sewer taps can be added so they can add to their house, they can add a garage, they can build whatever they want to do as long as it doesn’t create a new tap.”
McCorquodale said after submitting the changes to the final draft to the state, town staff will meet with NCDEQ representatives on Jan. 26 to finalize the SOC. From there, the SOC will enter a public comment period where residents can have a chance to provide input on the proposed agreement.
“We won’t know what the complete final draft will look like until after it goes to public comment because it can always change after the public comment, but it won’t go to public comment until us and the state both come to an agreement,” he said.
McCorquodale also said he hopes the state and Siler City will come to an agreement at the Jan. 26 meeting, and then, the town can move forward in finalizing the SOC through public comment and state approval.
“They [NCDEQ] will have to review all the comments and all that stuff, we’re looking at probably sometime mid-March before it (the SOC) would actually go into effect,” he said. “It could be later, it depends on the state.”
Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org