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Sewer line meeting produces no consensus

EDNEYVILLE — A public input opportunity on an issue that county officials say could shape the future of the apple country for decades to come drew just 30 people and produced no consensus on which sewerage option would be best for the Edneyville area.

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 The Henderson County Board of Commissioners, which set the meeting to receive the community’s input, is trying to decide what kind of sewer service it will approve to serve the new Edneyville Elementary School, which is scheduled to open for the 2019-20 school year.If nothing else, however, the 90-minute session at North Henderson High School's auditorium reminded the commissioners just how much Edneyville people value their community, its history and its iconic apple orchards and how much they want to retain a say in its future.

Many of the residents who spoke were the same ones who over the years had accused county leaders of neglecting the 50-year-old elementary school in favor of other projects across the county. On Thursday night, they made it a point to thank this Board of Commissioners for authorizing the $25 million school building.

Because the new elementary school will need sewer service, commissioners say they have an opportunity for a broader look at how to serve not only the school and the WNC Justice Academy but potentially a wide area on either side of a 5-mile sewer line roughly following Clear Creek.
County Manager Steve Wyatt laid out the options commissioners are looking at:
-- Drip irrigation. Cost: $705,000 and $35,000 a year in maintenance. Commissioners have opposed that option.
-- Onsite package plant. A treatment plant would have a pump station and force main that would discharge effluent into Clear Creek. “The state of North Carolina would permit this one if there were no other alternatives,” Wyatt said. Cost: $950,000, plus $35,000 a year operating costs. Since there are alternatives, a state permit would be in doubt.
-- Force main system. A pressurized line on U.S. 64 with a pump station that forces the wastewater 3½ miles to the city of Hendersonville sewer system. Cost: $1.5 million, with annual operating cost of $29,000. Extending that line to the WNC Justice Academy would add $650,000.
-- Gravity sewer line. A gravity line along Clear Creek. Cost: $4.5 million with $19,000 in annual cost. Adding the Justice Academy would almost double the construction cost, to $8.5 million.

How would the county pay for a sewer line?
There are several options, Wyatt said.
The Board of Commissioners could create a Clear Creek Sewer District, a separate governing body with the power to tax, condemn property and borrow money. It could also collect tap fees and service charges to recoup construction costs, and charge system development fees. The county already has one of these, the Cane Creek Sewer District, which manages the sewer system in the Fletcher area.

The most frequently asked question, Wyatt said, is how would a sewer line affect growth?
“We don’t know,” he said. “But there are precedents and if you look around basically when you have public utilities more people can live there, you generally see higher density. It will generally accelerate development.”
A city water line has already been run to the Justice Academy along U.S. 64.
“You marry water and sewer and you've got potential there to increase growth,” Wyatt said. “It also increases the likelihood of commercial and industrial development.”

Speakers were about evenly divided between the two most ambitious options — the gravity fed line along Clear Creek and a forced-main along U.S. 64.

Apple grower Kenny Barnwell spoke in favor of the forced-main line.

“It’s not as maintenance-demanding. If you go and you build the gravity system you’re building into the floodway or Clear Creek and Henderson Creek," he said. "What if we have the 500-year flood and it flushes out the entire system?”
“The cost is less, it’s environmentally more sound and (could be) professionally engineered and built to the capacity we need .. and put that system on 64 so it could handle what’s going to happen in the next 20 years in Edneyville,” he said. The U.S. 64 line option is “the one that fits the small area plan and the 2020 comprehensive plan when it says we want to protect farmland. When you do this gravity system it goes straight through farmland and the places that they’re going to build and develop are going to be off farmland.”

But others said the  gravity line would provide more capacity for growth for decades to come.

“I know it costs a lot more but the gravity-fed sewer system is going to be the best system,” said Don Henderson, a retired schoolteacher who lives off Gilliam Road. “You’ve got less maintenance.”

One homeowner who moved to the area recently praised commissioners for planning now for growth.

“The opportunity you have is the ability to get ahead of what’s coming,” said Gayle Cinke, who was in favor of a forced main system. “You can continue to control it by doing this. This will help the environment, it will help agriculture and through zoning you’ll be able to protect the farmland.”
Most of the land the line that would serve is zoned for farming and residential development. But zoning can be changed, Wyatt pointed out.
In fact, planners say the 5-mile gravity line could result in up to 10,766 housing units — or 32,000 people at three per household.
Edneyville’s small area plan, a community-driven planning process that zoning is based on, identified both sewerage and preserving farmland as a priority.
“It’s kind of interesting how those may be in opposition to each other,” Wyatt said.