County commissioners push U.S. 421 development forward

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County commissioners are moving the development of the U.S. 421 corridor forward following their approval of funding for the design of water and sewer systems along the highway and the acquisition of land to do the project.

On Monday, commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the $2.1 million capital project, which would affect the highway as it runs out of downtown Wilmington on the Isabel Holmes Bridge north to the Pender County line.

“These conversations started well over 20 years ago, to talk about the establishment of the essential utilities that need to be in place for New Hanover County to grow, to bring new jobs, to bring investment,” said Scott Satterfield of Wilmington Business Development, who was the sole speaker during the public hearing. “I think you have an excellent opportunity in front of you to push that ball a long ways, to take what is raw property and turn it into real sites for companies to take a serious look at.

“This is an important step for our existing industry that is on Highway 421 and in the region. It’s an important step for companies that will consider possibly locating in New Hanover County, and it’s important for job creation so that we can continue to move the economic ball forward,” Satterfield continued. “I can’t think of anything more important right now than having those essential utilities in place. It would help put us in the right position.”

The money approved Monday will only cover the cost of designs, permitting fees and acquisitions of right of ways for the two systems. Plans and fees for the wastewater and water system will cost $900,000 and $600,000, respectively. The final $600,000 will go to purchasing land ($500,000 for the wastewater system, $100,000 for the water one).

County staff are looking for ways to fund actual construction of the project, including grants and loans. According to county manager Chris Coudriet, no debt will be issued until a contract for construction is in place.

Commissioners passed the capital project ordinance as well as an interlocal agreement for the project by 5 – 0 votes.

“As Mr. Satterfield said, we’ve been talking about this in the community for far too long,” said Commissioner Skip Watkins. “I look forward to being part of that solution.”