Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Water plant proposal prompts concerns from Leland residents

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A proposed water treatment plant in northern Brunswick County has residents of the nearby Magnolia Greens community concerned about its potential effect on their day-to-day lives and property values. But the company behind the project—H2GO Brunswick Regional Water & Sewer—says they don’t need to be.

The utility is planning a reverse osmosis plant on about 8 acres of a 34-acre parcel at the end of Gregory Road, mainly between that road and Poole Road, in an area known as the Waterford Business Park—an industrial park in the Town of Belville’s zoning jurisdiction.

The site borders the east side of Magnolia Greens, which is part of the neighboring Town of Leland. H2GO initially sought to locate the plant in Leland jurisdiction off Chappell Loop Road, beside its existing sewage treatment plant and other industrial uses in that area, but Leland Town Council voted down the proposal last fall.

H2GO then took the project to Belville, which approved it for industrial-zoned land in the business park, located across U.S. 17 from the Leland Wal-Mart. With Belville’s approval, next steps for the project include an environmental assessment and other reviews by the state—a process that Bob Walker, H2GO’s executive director, said would take about a year.

If all goes according to plan, Walker said the plant could be designed and operational by 2018.

But recent community meetings with homeowners associations for Magnolia Greens and Waterford have aroused some pushback from residents whose homes are closest to the site. Walker said the plant would maintain an approximately 400-foot buffer, including trees and an existing berm, from the nearest homes in Magnolia Greens, but residents have voiced concerns about the location, the plant’s potential noise and its effect on property values.

Mike Manna, president of the Magnolia Greens homeowners association board, said his board has questions and is seeking answers from the utility but has not taken a position on the concerns voiced by residents, who he said did so in a meeting they held independent of the board.

“We’re monitoring the issue and gathering data,” Manna said, noting the board held a meeting with the utility after its Waterford counterpart held a similar meeting.

“Subsequent to that,” he said, “some of our residents scheduled their own meetings, as is their right. Some are very passionate about it.

“This board, we’re gathering facts,” Manna said. “When we have those, we’ll present them to the community.”

Manna said the board is questioning the need for the plant, as well as the location.

New plant vs. wholesale

Walker, the H2GO director, said the driving factors behind the plant include a desire to diversify the area’s water supply and to better control costs that are passed on to customers.

Currently, H2GO purchases water from Brunswick County according to rates that are based on the national Producer Price Index (PPI), which Walker said is projected to continue to increase over time. Walker said H2GO has no control over those costs or others that could come from county infrastructure improvements.

By constructing its own plant—a reverse osmosis plant that would draw water from underground aquifers and filter it through membranes, as opposed to treating water directly from the river—Walker said H2GO would be able to better control its customers’ rates. For a customer using 3,000 gallons a month, those rates would increase about $3.24; for those using 5,000, their rates would increase about $4.68, Walker said.

Walker said those rates would be in line with what would need to be charged for increasing wholesale rates from the county. “The difference, however, is that rates with the reverse osmosis facility will level off,” he said, “rather than increasing year after year from wholesale water rate increases from Brunswick County.”

Jerry Pierce, director of Brunswick County Public Utilities, which provides water and sewer service beyond H2GO’s boundary of Leland, Belville and part of Navassa, disagrees that the plant would save H2GO customers money long-term. While the addition of the plant would hold off the county’s need to add capacity to its northeast treatment plant—an infrastructure improvement that could affect county rates—Pierce said H2GO’s costs to pay for its plant and operate it would be more than it pays now for county water.

Walker said the plant would require a revenue bond issue of $30 million or less, adding that annual debt service payments would be about $1.8 million, which he said is less than what H2GO will pay for county water this fiscal year.

Pierce said H2GO is actually paying closer to $1.5 million per year. Add to that a debt service over 20 years and the cost of operating the plant, and Pierce said the project would not produce savings.

“I don’t think that’s the most cost-effective thing for them to do,” Pierce said. “I think it’s going to cost their customers more in the long-run. But they have a duly elected board and they make their own decisions, and they’ll do whatever they think is in their best interests.

“Our position is that we have adequate capacity to serve our wholesale and retail customers today and in the future, and we’re trying to make sure that when there is a need for capacity, we’re in a position to provide it,” Pierce said.

Walker said the project would keep customers’ rates lower than they would be if H2GO continued purchasing water wholesale from the county.

“With a growing user base, increasing water demands and an escalating PPI, our wholesale water payments to Brunswick County will continue to increase significantly and will soon exceed the total cost to finance and operate the reverse osmosis water facility,” he said.

While the need for the plant appears up for debate, the location of the plant is what concerns nearby residents. Manna said he told Walker after the Magnolia Greens board’s meeting with H2GO that the utility should ensure an adequate buffer as requested.

Asked if there are any reasons residents should be concerned about the plant, Walker replied: “No, none whatsoever.”

“There’s no noise from the plant. The sight lighting will be contained well within the property boundaries, if not the fence area that we’ll have, and that’s all going to be contained within the wooded area that we’re locating the plant in.

“I think one concern of some of the residents is that it may affect their property values. That industrial park has been there long before Magnolia Greens and Waterford. That doesn’t make it right or wrong,” Walker said.

Noting other potential uses that could be allowed on the site and have more impact, Walker added: “We will be a very good neighbor.”

A map shows the location of the proposed water treatment plant in relation to the nearest homes in Magnolia Greens. A cleared power line easement can be seen between them. Image courtesy H2GO.
A map shows the location of the proposed water treatment plant in relation to the nearest homes in Magnolia Greens. A cleared power line easement can be seen between them. Image courtesy H2GO.

Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or jonathan.s@portcitydaily.com. On Twitter: @jrspiers

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