Thursday, February 2, 2023

CFPUA’s raw water supply line to be rerouted under Highway 421 following Florence wash out

A majority of New Hanover County's raw water supply is transmitted via a 48-inch water main under Highway 421, less than 100 feet south from a washout from Hurricane Florence. To address the supply vulnerability and save money, the main is being relocated further south. The timing is tight, but possible, according to LCFWSA's engineering consultant.

John Wessell, general counsel for the Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority (center), addresses the board at its monthly April meeting. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
John Wessell, general counsel for the Lower Cape Fear Water & Sewer Authority (center), addresses the board at its monthly April meeting. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — A 48-inch main supplying over 200,000 people in New Hanover County with drinking water is about to get rerouted — and crews have about five months to get it done.

Related: Washed-out 421 exposes water supply vulnerability, to be turned (back) into a bridge

Lower Cape Fear Water Sewer & Authority is streamlining its $2 million relocation of a water main that passes under Highway 421 using emergency protocols.

Hurricane Florence washed out a few-hundred-foot portion of Highway 421 in September 2018, leaving a water supply vulnerability in the region. With the asphalt gone, the region’s transmission line was nearly exposed, but not damaged.

While Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s pump station is offline, the vulnerable main is the sole transmitter of raw water sourced from the Cape Fear River for the authority’s ratepayers and four industrial customers.

North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is currently constructing two new bridges over the washed out road. To prevent spending $1 million to cut the new road open at a later date, Lower Cape Fear Water & Sewer Authority (LCFWSA) must work in concert with the department’s schedule to move the main. “It’s really tight,” Tony Boahn, vice president of McKim & Creed said at the authority’s meeting Monday.

Tight Timing

Last month, LCFWSA approved declaring the water main relocation an emergency.

This designation allowed the authority to skip the request for proposal process, expediting the project’s schedule. Boahn told LCFWSA’s board Monday bids will be advertised by the end of this month.

Construction to reroute the main should start in July.

About 700-feet of the main will be routed south and west, forming an “L” shape, avoiding NCDOT’s planned bridge approach area. Work would need to be completed by this upcoming fall or winter, Boahn said.

After the path is rerouted, the existing main — which also travels in an “L” shape under Highway 421 — would be filled and capped. Traffic impacts will be limited, according to McKim & Creed’s plans.

New Hanover County Commissioners approved granting the authority a $1,506,538 loan on Feb. 18. LCFWSA will pay the funds back at two percent interest over a three-year period, and pitch in the remaining $500,000 needed for the project using its own cash.

Don Betz, LCFWSA’s executive director, said the authority’s sense of urgency stems from multiple factors. One, it saves money to work with NCDOT before — not after — it builds new infrastructure. Also, hurricane season is less than two months away. This could leave the main open to the elements and the department’s cranes, steel beams, and other construction material required to forge two new bridges — an approximately $8 million project. And finally, Betz said the authority’s recent memory of Reigelwood’s 2016 water main break hasn’t faded.

“If that hadn’t happened, we’d probably say everything’s fine,” he said. Five days after Hurricane Matthew made landfall, a joint in the 48-inch main that travels alongside N.C. 87 failed. About half the water leaving the pump station was registered at customer meters. The joint failure lasted 16 days before a bypass pipe was activated.

“The pipes wouldn’t break, but the joints break,” Betz said. “And every 20 feet there’s a joint.”

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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