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Commissioners vote to move ahead with Edneyville sewer system

Chart shows a typical household rate for the Edneyville sewer system compared to others in the region. Chart shows a typical household rate for the Edneyville sewer system compared to others in the region.

Toward the tail end of a daylong budget retreat last week, Henderson County commissioners voted to move ahead with a $21 million sewer project to serve the Edneyville and Fruitland area.

“It’s a big decision — for this community and for Edneyville,” Bill Lapsley, the board chair, said. “We’re moving forward on a project. Big day, big day.”
It wasn’t the first time the county had operated a sewer system — it owned the Cane Creek system before ceding that to the Metropolitan Sewer District — but it marks the first time the county has taken a bold step to open up a rural and suburban area to new development by making public sewer available.
Commissioners earlier in the day had made another big decision, voting unanimously to authorize design and ultimately the construction of a combined renovation and expansion of the Grove Street Courthouse and the county jail, at a cost of up to $127 million. They had voted to move forward, too, on a renovation of the old Hedrick-Rhodes VFW post at Five Points — pricetag $4.5 million.
In the Grove Street complex, jail occupants come and go and judges and juries try cases and government functions of collecting taxes and registering deeds grind on. But no decision commissioners made last week is as consequential as building a new wastewater treatment plant and serving homes, businesses and public institutions in the apple country. It has the potential, as one commissioner observed, to twist the growth spigot wide open.
“It’s a two-sided coin because it’s immediately going to turn on development, growth,” Commissioner Daniel Andreotta said.

EdneyvilleUsersThe county’s projections show that public entities, businesses and a number of homes would be likely first-day customers of the sewer system.How much growth is unclear. Will Buie, a consulting engineer, said he and other engineers and financial analysts had created a conservative forecast of users on day 1 of the sewer plant’s operation. Some are all but a certainty. The WNC Justice Academy pays the county now to operate a small treatment plant to serve the campus. Edneyville Elementary School, which uses an aging septic system, was one of the original reasons the county hatched the sewerage idea in the first place. Camp Judea, Fruitland Bible College, the Edneyville Fire & Rescue station, Edneyville Community Center and the Blacksmith Run subdivision, which also operates a small community treatment plant, also are likely customers to tap in.
“There are a number of commercial businesses along Highway 64 that probably have a limit to their operation” because they’re on septic systems, Buie said. “We assume there’s a likelihood — 50 percent chance — that those folks will connect in.”
Lapsley, a retired civil engineer, says the timing is right to build the $21 million system not only because of the need but because the money is there. Through the work of state Sen. Chuck Edwards, the Legislature appropriated $12.7 million for the project. The county has $2 million socked away for a sewer solution from the money it borrowed to build the new Edneyville Elementary School. And now that the final rules are out for spending American Rescue Plan money, the county expects to use some of its $22.8 million largesse to cover the balance.
“There’s no borrowing of any funds here, loan to pay back,” Lapsley said to his fellow commissioners last week. “Ordinarily, if the county was to borrow $20 million to build this facility, there would be a debt service component here.” The annual debt payment “would be a huge number with a very small — at the beginning — number of customers to spread that over. What we’d be facing, from my point of view, is the county taxpayers’ general fund subsidizing this system for five, ten years, maybe longer, for it to generate enough revenue to meet the debt service requirement.”
With the state and federal money, “All these stars have aligned and we have an opportunity to do this, which ordinarily I don’t think we would have,” he said. “If we had to borrow the money the rates would be so high that nobody would connect to it.”

What is the rate?

IMG 0316The county plans to apply for permit for a wastewater treatment plant on Clear Creek, shown from the bridge on Fruitland Road.Based on the cost of operating the system and a conservative estimate of ratepayers, Buie projects that the sewer bill would be $56 a month for a typical household usage of 4,000 gallons a month. That’s $10 more than the outside-city rate the city of Hendersonville charges but less than the outside rates of Brevard ($71), Rutherfordton ($112) and Lake Lure ($180).
“The likely users are going to be based on what are your rates and what are your connection fees,” Buie said. “We want the folks that we’re thinking (will) connect to connect. My suggestion would be that connection fees or tap fees would be nominal (at first). But if you’re going to connect later you’re going to establish fees that cover the cost of making the tap.”
Buie walked commissioners through the arduous process for a getting a permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality. He projected the discharge into Clear Creek to average 72,000 gallons per day with a peak of 107,000 gallons. The plant would be designed for expansions in 150,000 gallons per day increments up to 450,000 gallons. Commissioners said yes, authorizing county engineer Marcus Jones and Buie to begin the process of applying for the OK for one of two treatment plant locations on Clear Creek — one near Fuitland Road and one downstream, near North Henderson High School. Clear Creek empties into Mud Creek near the city of Hendersonville wastewater treatment plant. Mud Creek flows into the French Broad River.
“This is a new wastewater treatment facility with a new discharge,” Buie said. “That’s not a small matter. We would go meet with NCDEQ to talk about the possibility of securing a permit for that discharge, get some initial feedback from them. Based on that feedback we would request what are called speculative limits from the state. That is, if we give you a wastewater discharge the limits you must treat the water will likely be this and that establishes specifically the technology for the wastewater treatment facility.”
The state would require engineers to conduct an “alternatives analysis” that evaluates all other options.
“You have to justify that is the most reasonable option both from an environmental perspective and a cost perspective,” Buie said. In addition, because the county would be using state and most likely federal funds, the project would have to meet the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, requiring an extensive environmental study. And, Assistant County Manager Amy Brantley warned, the process for using the federal rescue money imposes another thicket of bureaucracy.

Is there a public hearing?


EdneyvilleMapProposed Edneyville sewer system would serve the WNC Justice Academy (upper right), Edneyville Elementary School (bottom center), U.S. 64 and Fruitland Bible College (upper center). Yellow lines are gravity sewer line. Red dash line would be a force main pushed by a pump station on Lewis Creek near Blacksmith Run.Lapsley pointed out that the Board of Commissioners held a public meeting to hear concerns, support for or opposition to a sewer system last year at Edneyville Elementary School.
“The state DEQ puts out a public notice and says in effect, Henderson County has applied for a wastewater treatment plant permit. Does anybody have any objection?” he said. “If nobody objects, if they don’t get letters or emails or they get two, the state will say there’s not enough concern, we’ll issue a permit. Let’s say 200 people come out of the woodwork to oppose it, if they get a big public reaction, then the governor has the authority to direct the DEQ to hold a public hearing and give the public a chance to make their case.”
Lapsley said he had not heard opposition so far, noting that commissioners have been talking about sewer service in the apple country for years. “It’s not a surprise that we’re considering this,” he said.
In fact, the only person to comment during in the final minutes of the commissioners’ discussion was a well-known Edneyville farmer who endorsed the new sewer system.
“It seems to me this may be an easier decision for you guys to make than some of the others,” said Fred Pittillo, owner of Turf Mountain Sod. “The thing that I think is important is if we don’t do something, little by little I see the city moving toward us. … We see that Fletcher, Mills River area are pretty well taken care of as far as the sewer and water situation. If we look at the rest of the county, that leaves the Fruitland, Dana, Edneyville area,” which he said has a topography conducive for gravity sewer service. “Where my house is, 10 years ago I could see five or six homes. Today I can see about 50.”
The next step is the county’s initial meeting with the DEQ to sketch out its intention and get the initial feedback. Lapsley said he expects it to take a year to get a permit and two to three years after that to build a treatment plant and pump station and run sewer lines.