Sunday, June 26, 2022

Surf City looks to take over water supply from Pender County in outlying areas

A water tower on Surf City's mainland, just south of JH Batts Road. Town officials are currently trying to obtain a release from the county's water and sewer district, pointing to supply issues over the summer. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A water tower on Surf City’s mainland, just south of J H Batts Road. Town officials are currently trying to obtain a release from areas of the county’s water and sewer district within city limits, pointing to supply issues over the summer. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Surf City has grown into areas where water is supplied by the county. Following capacity issues over the summer, the town is now looking for a release from the county to supply the water itself.

SURF CITY — Town leaders are seeking a release from Pender County’s water system following a hot, dry summer that hampered the county’s ability to supply the populated coastal region.

During a recent meeting in Surf City, Mayor Doug Medlin and town council members asked the new town attorney, Brian Edes, to research a state law that may allow Surf City to provide water in areas currently supplied by the county’s Rocky Point-Topsail Water and Sewer District (RPTWSD).

The statute prohibits any city from duplicating water or sewer services provided by a district, except with consent of the district or if a public hearing finds that adequate fire protection “cannot be provided in the area because of the level of available water service.” Issues with the county’s water infrastructure have come to light during a shortage this summer, exacerbated by a drought and supply constraints to two water tanks in the Hampstead area.

RELATED: Drought, water shortage puts focus on maxed-out infrastructure in eastern Pender County

“From Pender County’s standpoint, we are not allowed to provide any water or sewer to anyone within that area unless Pender County releases them from their service, because they’re not able to provide [water],” Loftis said to open the discussion.

Water revenues or more property taxes?

The RPTWSD was established in 1996 and an expansion project into the Surf City area was completed in 2008, according to Pender County Utilities (PCU) Director Kenny Keel. He said the expansion included areas near the boundaries of the town, which at the time “didn’t have any interest or intent to extend their system into those areas.

“And so we did, and they [became] a part of our district,” Keel said. “Over time, Surf City has grown and has started to overlap and now they want to get into some of our district areas, which has caused some issues.”

He said the main issue now is the growth of Surf City into the county’s water and sewer district, areas the county does not want to give up due to water revenues.

According to Mayor Doug Medlin, the county’s water revenues are far exceeded by potential property taxes the county could collect by allowing Surf City to provide water to future developments in areas that lie within town limits and the RPTWSD. Medlin said these areas cannot be adequately supplied by the county’s water capacity.

“What’s perplexing to me is they are losing a lot of property tax revenue by not allowing us to furnish the water and sewer … Right now they got water problems. The only reason they got water is because we’re furnishing the water to the county,” Medlin said.

Edes agreed with the mayor, saying the “tax base would far exceed the revenue they make on water.”

Town leaders met at the Surf City Welcome Center on August 30 to discuss plans to take over water supply in areas currently supplied by the county. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Town leaders met at the Surf City Welcome Center on August 29 to discuss plans to take over water supply in areas within city limits currently supplied by the county. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

But Keel called this argument irrelevant because the water and sewer system comes from an enterprise fund, which means it’s supported by water sales and does not rely on any tax funds. Although he acknowledged the county’s issues with supply over the summer, he said PCU must continue to recoup its water infrastructure investment.

“Of course this summer the county has struggled with demands and we’re working on those issues,” Keel said.

Additionally, because the district doesn’t provide sewer services to the Surf City area, a developer in most instances would need to connect to the town’s own sewer system. To Keel’s knowledge, Surf City does not want sewer-only customers — if a lot connects to the sewer system, it must also connect to the water system too, he said.

“And that’s an issue with the district because in order to do that, we would have to release that lot from our service,” Keel said. “And we spent a lot of money running our water lines and extending them to the areas that we did. And just giving that up is basically giving us no return on our investment … That’s where there’s a little bit of conflict that is trying to be sorted out.”

Issues with county water

The county currently provides water to its eastern district from two sources. Most of the supply comes from the Cape Fear River down a 12-inch pipe along Highway 210, and the county is now considering whether to build a larger pipe to run alongside it. Its second source comes from an interconnection with Surf City’s system supplied by a series of local wells that draw water from the Castle Hayne Aquifer.

According to Keel, the town currently supplies approximately 100,000 gallons of water per day to an area within RPTWSD that is adjacent to their own system. To provide more Surf City water to the district’s water system, Keel said additional pumps and larger pipes are needed — construction that is not planned for at this time.

It is unclear whether the town seeks to use the county’s water infrastructure or build new pipes to supply future developments, but their central argument is that the county’s capacity is currently incapable of meeting demand.

“If they can’t provide it, they have to give us a release,” Mayor Medlin said.

Councilman Donald Helms said the county’s water pressure problems have cut down on Surf City’s supply.

They can’t even keep the water tank that’s up there half-full,” Helms said, referring to one of two tanks in the district.

He also said the county doesn’t allow the Surf City Fire Department to hook up pumpers to county hydrants, and the state law that would allow a town to supply water within a county district if insufficient water supply causes inadequate fire protection.

On Monday, Loftis said the town attorney is still conducting research on whether the town could legally obtain a release from the county’s water district.

To meet growing demand further south in the Scotts Hill and Hampstead areas, where demand is between 700,000 to 1 million gallons of water per day, Keel said the design of a permanent interconnection with the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA) began in August. But a water transfer agreement still needs to be finalized, and Keel expected the interconnection to be operational by early 2021.


Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com or (970) 413-3815

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