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Commission rejects long-term solution for Edneyville sewage service

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Faced with a decision about sewerage treatment options for the new Edneyville Elementary School that would affect future growth, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners booted a long-term plan and opted for a short-term solution.

Commissioners on Wednesday directed county staff to look at two options to deal with the immediate issue of service for just the school: an on-site septic system and a package plant. Both plans are the least expensive of five options that had been on the table and in choosing them the board delayed a larger policy decision of whether to serve the apple country with a line to Hendersonville's treatment plant.

County manager Steve Wyatt said it would take 30 days — “a busy 30 days” – for county engineers to develop those proposals. The quick turnaround is necessary because ground is expected to be broken for the new school in March and permitting and financing deadlines loom as soon as May.

Bitter feelings about water and sewer services in Henderson County occupied commissioners’ thoughts from early in the meeting, when Rep. Chuck McGrady addressed the commissioners about his frustration with the Metropolitan Sewer District and its refusal in December to add representatives from Henderson County to its board in a regional approach to water and sewer issues.

McGrady sponsored legislation last year that would have required the MSD to add the Henderson county representatives if the MSD had voted to merge with the Cane Creek Sewer District, which serves 3,700 customers in northern Henderson County.

McGrady said he “stands ready for legislative action when needed and approached” by the county but that “if a memo of understanding can be signed by Henderson County and Asheville, then there would be no need for legislation.” He urged “engagement with the City of Hendersonville to work through some of these issues … and address the 70 percent (of water customers) without representation.”

Customers who live outside of Hendersonville’s city limits pay higher rates for water than customers who live inside the city. The city is looking to bring those rates more in line with each other as it invests in its system over the next five years.

Commission Chair Michael Edney said he and Commissioner Bill Lapsley met with Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk, Council Member Steve Caraker and City Manager John Connet on Feb. 13 to discuss water issues. What he took away from the meeting, he said, was that “the city likes things where they are.”

Lapsley, in detailing the five options for providing water and sewer service to Edneyville, said the city’s attitude about taking on new customers has changed over the years. “The political considerations now are different than 10 years ago” when the city took on customers because of a service extension to Atkinson Elementary School, he said.

“The City Council controls the growth of Henderson County because they control the largest water and sewer system,” Lapsley said. “They control the destiny of growth and development.”

Because “we should not submit property owners along 64 East to the costs from the city,” Lapsley recommended that the county pursue ways to provide service for the new elementary school only. Those two ways also are the most affordable: a septic system with drain field that would cost $705,000 to build and $35,000 annually to maintain. or a package plant at a cost of $950,000 to build and $35,000 annually to maintain. The package plant would require state approval.

None of the commissioners challenged his suggestions.
A frustrated Charlie Messer said, “Our hands are tied … We need to get in the sewer business … You can say we can’t afford it because of the costs. But what’s it going to be 10 years from now, 15 years from now? We need to give an option to residents outside of the city. We owe it to the people of Henderson County to come up with a plan.”

Lapsley’s proposals, however, were not supported by the five residents from Edneyville who spoke during the public comment time. Instead, they urged the board to choose the so-called Barnwell proposal that would combine a gravity sewer line along US 64 with several pumping stations.

Apple grower Kenny Barnwell offered the idea weeks ago as a compromise to serve agricultural interests and the tourist industry and to protect the natural beauty of the area.

“The community would like the commissioners to follow the 2020 Plan and provide sewer service to Edneyville Elementary School … A sewer line along Highway 64 where the water line currently runs would serve the existing businesses, the agritourism locations and planned future developments … We want to protect and grow what we are blessed with as intelligently as possible,” he told commissioners.

Commissioner Tommy Thompson remarked on those comments as he offered his opinions about what option the board should choose.

“This morning there was more of a consensus of the Barnwell line rather than the gravity line. Our communities need to be telling us what they want rather than us telling them what they are going to get,” Thompson said. “With no more information than I have today, I would have to say that overall the best solution to Edneyville School is the hybrid down 64. But because of the problems with the city of Hendersonville, butting heads, we should make option 1 or option 2 work and be on guard” for the possibility of the Barnwell option or gravity line in the future.

“With a better working relationship with the city, and maybe with the county in the sewer business,” it might make sense in the future, he said. But for now, he threw his support behind the more limited services of the septic system or the package plant.

The options that commissioners set aside were a force-main system with a single sewage pumping station at a cost of $1.5 million and an annual maintenance of $29,000; the Barnwell option with three smaller pumping stations and 3.4 miles of collectors along U.S. 64 at a cost of $4.58 million and annual maintenance of $31,000 per year; and the gravity sewer line of 4.8 miles at a cost of $4.5 million and annual maintenance of $19,000 per year.