Commissioners take action against saltwater intrusion

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To address known saltwater intrusion at residential wells in the northeast part of the county and to prevent the problem from spreading, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted Monday morning to assess area property owners for the costs of running public water lines to their homes.

The project chiefly concerns the Bald Eagle Lane area of Porters Neck, where residents have complained of discolored water they can neither drink nor use to wash their clothes.

Beside its impact on public health, county commissioners noted tainted wells may also affect property values and attempts to sell homes. Chairman Jonathan Barfield, a Realtor, said  if prospective buyers learned about salty or brown water, “they’d probably walk out.”

The project will extend public water to homes off Bald Eagle Lane and Futch Creek Road in the arrangement that may create as many as 205 new Cape Fear Public Utility Authority customers, according to information from the county.

Officials estimated the per-lot assessments to be $1,454, not including the $2,000 system development charge and $300 meter fee. The grand uniform total, which may change when actual costs are known, could be $3,754.

But the additional plumbing costs would vary per property, and that worried Bald Eagle Lane resident Elizabeth Johnston, who spoke against the project during a public hearing Monday morning. She said her house is hundreds of feet away from the road, and in between are underground power lines and other obstacles that could make running a line to her home difficult—and expensive.

“I don’t want to be financing water,” Johnston said. “I want to be financing (her children’s) college education.”

She added that tests of her wells have yielded clean results.

Nonetheless, the water line project is valuable planning for the future, commissioners and other Bald Eagle Lane residents said during Monday’s hearing, adding most of the vocal residents were in favor of it.

“We’ve got saltwater intrusion starting to move along all of our coast,” Commissioner Rick Catlin said. “This is an opportunity to solve this problem. It is a health concern.”

Said Commissioner Jason Thompson, “We have to look at the long-term future of that particular piece of the county.”

The $884,000 water project would also afford the neighborhood fire protection. Catlin, Thompson and Barfield–the only commissioners present on the five-seat board Monday–approved the assessments arrangement unanimously.

 Contact Ben Brown at ben.b@hometownwilmington.com or (910) 772-6335. On Twitter: @benbrownmedia