LUMBERTON — The Lumber River Council of Governments plans to send a letter by Friday to the Local Government Commission addressing grant applications which the LGC tabled until its March 1 meeting.
The LGC tabled the LRCOG’s applications which requested funding for two Asset and Inventory Assessment grants for water and sewer. Also tabled were requests by the organization for two grants concerning water and sewer for municipality projects.
The LRCOG’s application requests for funding from the state’s Viable Utility Reserve included a $456,000 Water Utility Regionalization Planning Study Asset and Inventory Assessment Grant for towns of Boardman, Cerro Gordo, Fair Bluff, Fairmont and Rowland; a $874,300 Wastewater Utility Regionalization Planning Study (AIA) for the towns and Proctorville; a $365,500 Drinking Water Utility Merger and Regionalization Study Application; and a $383,000 Wastewater Utility Merger and Regionalization Study.
Applications from other municipalities through the state’s Viable Utility Reserve also were tabled.
“The new viable utility program provides funding to build a path toward viable utility systems using long-term solutions for distressed water and wastewater units in North Carolina,” according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s website.
“The State Water Infrastructure Authority and the Local Government Commission have developed criteria to determine how local government units should be assessed for need and eligibility under the Viable Utility Reserve,” the website reads.
Applications were sent by the LRCOG on behalf of the towns mentioned, which are seeking funding to address a future merger of water utilities.
“These units of local governments have been working together for years to explore a merger. The group recognizes that this cooperation needs to be further developed and the challenges, benefits and implications of regionalization with this structure be further explored with the goal of creating a cooperative, regional public utility,” the letter drafted by the LRCOG reads.
“The study applications are designed to pull together the components needed to achieve a public Water and Sewer Authority as described in NCGS 162A. It is the desire of the group to consolidate operations, maintenance, and management of their water utilities under one umbrella entity,” the letter states.
Fairmont provides sewer services to Proctorville, Fair Bluff, Boardman and Cerro Gordo, according to Jean Crews-Klein, Regional Planning director for the LRCOG.
The ability to assess the entire system through an AIA grant is important for the possibility of extending services to Rowland, she said.
“This is just kicking off the potential of that process,” Town Manager Hank Raper said of regionalization and the merger.
Raper said if approved, funding would help each town conduct an AIA of their system and those needs.
The process of studying the towns could take years to complete, he said.
“If it’s something that we feel comfortable with proceeding on as an — as an authority then we all, as a town, will need to understand what the obligation is that we’re walking into,” Raper said of the merger.
LGC members voiced concerns during the meeting about the outcomes of the statewide projects, specifically those that requested funding for assessment grants during the Feb. 1 meeting. One member said he was concerned about more funding being put towards the assessments than new pipes being placed in the ground.
Another member spoke of the need to have a water/sewer authority board in place which would own and oversee the placement of the system before the LRCOG’s funding request was approved.
“LGC members voted to postpone approving more than $3 million in grants for studies until their March meeting in order to gather more information,” according to a Feb. 3 press release.
If approved, funds requested by the LRCOG would be put towards a study concerning the legalities and financial aspects of forming an authority board, said Shadi Eskaf, director of Water Infrastructure at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, during the meeting.
“Nobody is denying there is a need to fix these problems that have been decades in the making,” Treasurer Dale Folwell said in a Feb. 3 statement. “We know that more towns, cities, utility districts and counties will come before the Local Government Commission seeking grant applications in the future, so it is vital that we get the process right from the start.”
The letter drafted by the LRCOG had the signatures of all mayors by Tuesday and LRCOG Executive Director David Richardson, according to Sonya Johnson, clerk to the LRCOG board of directors and administrative secretary.
“We’re just trying to convey that this needs to be handled the appropriate way,” Raper said.
The decision to punt the request was more than a hiccup in the proposed project, he said.
“This was a hold up for the whole state,” Raper said.
“That’s not fair to the people in these rural areas that desperately need assistance,” he added.
The towns involved in the project have high poverty levels and must face the high cost to address infrastructure needs each year, he said.
Raper said “the viability of all those towns comes back to the infrastructure.”
“Each of the applications submitted clearly conform to the requirements established in the legislation and further defined in the program regulations. Each has been reviewed as required by the NDEQ staff and have been ranked with scores sufficiently high to be funded. The award recommendations have been made to both the State Water Infrastructure Commission and the Local Government Commission,” the LRCOG letter reads.
“We certainly hope that the awards of our projects and the other projects on these VUR recommendations list are recommended for funding by the LGC at the March 1, 2022 meeting. Each of these local government units have applications pending which are important to the sustainability of critically needed water and wastewater services to their citizens,” the letter states.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email [email protected]