Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Southport to host public info session on plans to build its own wastewater plant

The City of Southport is working toward building its own $26.2 million wastewater treatment plant on city-owned property off Bethel Road. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy City of Southport)
The City of Southport is working toward building its own $26.2 million wastewater treatment plant on city-owned property off Bethel Road. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy City of Southport)

Update: This article has been corrected with the accurate day of the week for the upcoming information session, which is Thursday, October 3, beginning at 6 p.m. It also includes additional comments from Brunswick County.

SOUTHPORT — The City of Southport will host a public information session Thursday to catch residents up on ongoing plans for the City to build its own wastewater treatment plant.

In April, the board opted to cancel an interlocal agreement with Brunswick County, with officials sharing sentiments of independence and controlling the city’s municipal destiny.

Related: Brunswick Commissioners ask local utilities to consider regionalization

The City agreed in 2017 to enter into an agreement with Brunswick County to expand its allocated treatment capacity in the county’s West System, which is comprised of two wastewater treatment plants: West Brunswick Regional Wastewater Reclamation Facility (WBRWRF) and the Shallotte Wastewater Treatment Plant (SWTP).

Leaving the West System

The West System is currently capable of treating 6.5MGD and was under plans to expand to 7.25MGD to accommodate Southport’s increased allocation.

In fiscal year 2019, Southport used approximately 623,660 gallons per day (gpd) in the West System, according to the county’s Raftelis Financial Consultants report drafted this month. Southport paid Brunswick County just over $500,000 last fiscal year for treatment services, and as its fifth-largest wholesale wastewater customer, makes up 3.2% of the county’s total sewer revenues.

Before canceling the interlocal agreement, Southport engaged with a third-party consultant, Freese and Nichols, Inc (FNI). FNI updated and examined a 2016 Norris and Tunstall Consultant Engineers study that included estimates of the probable cost of a wastewater treatment plant. All in all, FNI concluded that for slightly more money, the city could build its own plant guaranteeing ownership and more capacity.

Plans with Brunswick County included a total capital cost of $25.76 million (which could have increased based on undetermined bids) to own a 750,000 gpd allocation in the West System in treatment capacity.

At approximately 83% of that updated total capacity allotment this past fiscal year, the city figured it would exceed its capacity needs well before its 30-year agreement with Brunswick County was up. (Author’s note: According to Brunswick County, this agreement included automatic 10-year extensions. FNI’s report referenced the county’s agreement as having no guaranteed extensions with a 20-year term).

FNI concluded the City could build its own 1 million-gallon-a-day (MGD) plant, with 250,000 gpd of wiggle room compared to the county’s plans, for $26.2 million.

Plans are being pursued, a project timeline shows, to build the plant on city-owned property off Bethel Road. This would eliminate acquisition costs and keep overall project costs down. However, the site is located in close proximity to Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point (MOTSU) and is within the military’s blast zone. City officials met with MOTSU representatives in June and July to present the city’s plans for the site. The city is working to obtain the state discharge permits necessary to release treated wastewater at the planned site into an outfall on the Cape Fear River.

“Owning our own plant, we will have enough capacity to handle our projected growth and the ability to expand at less costs,” City Manager Bruce Oakley wrote in an email to Port City Daily last week.

Removal of flow

Oakley presented the topic before the Board of Alderman last month, explaining that under the county’s terms, the City could have been in the position to pay for another expansion costing even more, with rate increases possible. The city’s annual operating costs to run the plant will cost approximately 1 million annually, according to FNI’s analysis, compared to the $750,000 the smaller-sized allocation would cost Brunswick County.

However, Brunswick County’s calculations show operating expenses would cost less than FNI’s estimate.

“A review of historic costs to operate the facilities, historic rate trends, combined with anticipated flows do not seem to support annual operation and maintenance rates of $750,000 per year,” The county’s spokesperson provided in a comment.

In fiscal year 2018, the city’s operations share with the county was $336,288 associated with an average 418,789 gpd flow. “As flow into the plant trends upward, rates typically trend downward,” according to the county’s spokesperson.

Brunswick County is banking on the city to remove its flow from the West System in a timely manner. Total flow removal is anticipated in fiscal year 2022, according to the county’s recent financial report.

According to a project timeline, construction on the new plant could begin in 2020 and will reach completion in May 2022. The city has applied for over $8 million in grants, Oakley told the board in August and will be able to use a State Revolving Fund it had been previously approved for to help fund the city’s expansion costs to the county for its own project.

Southport’s information session will take place on Thursday, October 3, at 6 p.m. at the Southport Community Building.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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