SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — As the Cape Fear region continues to grow at a rapid pace, the increasing need for infrastructure expansion has become a top priority. To assist with the costly upgrades, the newly passed state budget includes millions in water and wastewater project funding for New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties.
After a contentious months-long battle to pass a state budget, the final version heads to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk for approval. The $30-billion spending plan will become law, likely without the governor’s signature.
It includes more than $300 million to be funneled into the Cape Fear region.
Multiple entities in the county will receive money for infrastructure to aid in projects that offset the expense occurred at the municipality and county levels.
For New Hanover County, the state budget allocates $45 million toward water and sewer infrastructure, though intergovernmental affairs manager Tim Buckland said the scope of work has not yet been defined.
Within the $45 million, $15 million is specifically earmarked for infrastructure to Blue Clay Business Park.
The county has sold off three parcels within the 120-acre northern property to future tenants, but all are reliant on infrastructure build-out to 4101 Blue Clay Road.
Businesses bought land at $42,500 per acre. Francini Inc. bought 6.25 acres for expansion of its natural stone distribution business; Coastal Millwork Supply procured 5.5 acres and FTT Cabinetry purchased 5 acres.
In May, the county revealed the current price tag to build out the infrastructure is $7.5 million. Commissioners approved the same month a contract to Wells Brothers to install roadways, sanitary sewer, storm water system and a water distribution system to Blue Clay Business Park. An additional $400,000 in the contract accounts for testing needed after installation, as well as design.
Once complete, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority will maintain the water and sewer and North Carolina Department of Transportation will own the roads.
CFPUA also secured $35 million within the state budget for additional water extensions and regional consolidation.
“We are grateful for our region’s legislative delegation for securing funding to benefit CFPUA’s customers and our community,” CFPUA spokesperson Cammie Bellamy said.
Within the money set aside for CFPUA, $18 million will go toward water extensions for underserved communities. Bellamy said the authority is working with state and local partners to determine where exactly those expansions will be constructed.
“The county is currently updating their prioritization list for neighborhoods eligible for utility extensions,” she said.
The other portion of the $35 million is to be used for consolidation. CFPUA and the Town of Wrightsville Beach have been studying the possibility of a merger for more than a year.
A feasibility study, funded in part by a $400,000 grant from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, is intended to develop a capital improvement plan on how the town’s system can be made compatible with CFPUA’s. Aging infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and equipment and software will be replaced.
Wrightsville Beach has had to purchase water wholesale from CFPUA during peak seasons, since its town supply does not have enough capacity.
An additional $8 million was earmarked in the state budget for other Wrightsville Beach water and wastewater projects. A request to the town on what this will be used for went unanswered by press.
The Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority in Leland will receive $30 million to complete construction of a raw water line, serving numerous regional customers, including wholesale to CFPUA.
The authority plans to use $25 million of the funding to construct the next 3 miles of its parallel line project — a redundancy line for emergencies and breaks. Of a 10-mile line, 7 miles are currently under construction from Brunswick Station Plant to Pender County.
Installing a new 10-mile, 48-inch parallel line will advance capacity and provide a backup supply source, while also allowing for water service to continue as crews make intensive repairs along the entirety of the current piping.
Executive director Tim Holloman said he expects the funds to cover the remaining project in its entirety.
“The bottom 14 miles are already parallel, so this will give the authority complete redundancy for all its customers,” he said.
LCFWASA serves five wholesale customers, which totals nearly 500,000 people.
A $37-million pipeline that runs from Kings Bluff Water Pump Station, where raw water is pulled from the Cape Fear River just above Lock and Dam No. 1, to Brunswick County Northwest Water Treatment Plant was completed last year.
The other $5 million budgeted for LCFWASA will be used toward preliminary engineering and a land purchase to build a 100-million-gallon reservoir.
The added tank would cover at least two full days of water if there were ever an issue with the 3-million-gallon tank in Northwest or if it became temporarily contaminated, Holloman explained.
Two towns within Pender County also received allocations within the budget to assist with expanding infrastructure.
The Town of Surf City will be given $20 million to enhance its wastewater treatment capabilities.
Currently in the process of designing and building a new equalization basin — used for consistent application of treated effluent disposal — the town plans to increase capacity for residents and use the funds to offset rates for customers.
“Rates increased three years ago; this was due to increased operational costs,” town manager Kyle Breuer said. “Capital improvements are generally handled through System Development Fees that are generated from new development.”
Surf City’s current 1.5-million-gallons-per-day plant is limited based on effluent disposal and generally operates at a capacity of approximately 60%, Breuer said.
Its capital plans are two-phased, with the first expected to start this year and be completed in summer 2024. The project will take land previously not usable for spray irrigation and create disposal fields underground.
The second phase will either replace current spray irrigation or apply the same method to other properties.
“The town continues to seek additional opportunities to dispose of treated effluent and is working hard to do so,” Breuer said. “Growth demands have not slowed nor are anticipated to slow in the near future.”
The Town of Burgaw was allocated $10.6 million for infrastructure projects.
To the south of New Hanover, $35 million was budgeted for Brunswick County’s water and wastewater. County spokesperson Meagan Kascsak said the intent of the state funds is to cover costs related to needed upgrades to the Southport water and sewer infrastructure after the city’s utility system merges with Brunswick County Public Utilities.
Also listed is $965,000 for the Village of Bald Head Island and $2 million for the Town of Holden Beach.
Additional Cape Fear appropriations
A substance use, mental health and justice services nonprofit serving the tri-county area received both recurring and one-time expenses within the budget.
Coastal Horizons was earmarked $12 million for capital improvements including the expansion of facilities to provide more space to behavioral health and substance use disorder clients. According to development director Elizabeth Redenbaugh, it’s “a momentous allocation.”
“While we are already delivering essential services, the increasing demand calls for an extended infrastructure to uphold our unwavering commitment to these individuals,” Redenbaugh added.
The budget also calls for $6.1 million in recurring funds to Coastal Horizons to support its certified community behavioral health clinic model and treatment accountability for safer communities program.
Of the funds, $2-million will bolster Coastal Horizons Community Behavioral Health Clinic Support, which Redenbaugh said is a “game-changer.”
The clinics utilize a person- and family-centered approach to recovery, with access to comprehensive mental health and substance use services, regardless of financial barriers.
The other $4.1 million is being allocated toward the Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities initiative, a critical link between treatment and probation. It hasa 58% success rate, according to Redenbaugh.
“These generous allocations signal a transformative step forward, and we eagerly anticipate the positive changes they will bring to our organization and the communities we ardently serve,” she said.
Also housed within Coastal Horizons, the city’s quick response team to opioid overdoses will be funded within the state budget. Starting in 2018 as a pilot program, the QRT operates to engage overdose survivors and connect them with needed resources.
While the county and city’s joint opioid settlement funds are dedicating $1 million to the continuation of the program, an additional $300,000 was included in the state budget.
Also included in the state budget is assistance for the Wilmington International Airport for a parking facility and capital improvements. ILM plans to use the $22 million allocation to fund a portion of the total project cost for the airport’s parking, road realignment and terminal curb project.
ILM has a five-year $165-million future plan as it faces record-breaking passengership. Two new parking lots, totaling 400 spaces, are in the works at the terminal with over a thousand more spaces to follow in a future deck.
New Hanover County Airport Authority chair Spruill Thompson thanks local representatives, including Sens. Bill Rabon and Michael Lee, and Reps. Frank Iler, Ted Davis, Charlie Miller, and Deb Butler for their investment.
“We’d also like to recognize Senator Lee’s leadership as the Senate Appropriations Co-Chair of the budget committee,” he added.
Additional budget allocations for the tri-county region include:
- $15 million in each of the two budget years for Fort Fisher Aquarium in Kure Beach for its expansion plans
- $1.8 million to Kure Beach for capital improvements or equipment at the town’s public works building
- $2 million for NC Maritime Museum in Southport
- $2.8 million for Fort Fisher Historic Site
- $2.9 million to the Greater Wilmington Chamber Foundation
- $200,000 grant to Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County
- $250,000 grant to The Healing Place
- $250,000 grant to Cape Fear Child Development Center
- $500,000 grant to Eden Village for transitional housing for the chronically homeless
- $750,000 grant to Good Shepherd Ministries toward its family shelter
- $500,000 grant to Wilmington Rebuilding Area Ministry
- $150,000 grant to Cucalorus Film Foundation
- $500,000 grant to Film Partnership of North Carolina
Not included in this article is the millions of dollars that will be infused into UNCW, CFCC and local public schools, which will be detailed in another piece PCD will publish later this week.
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