Thursday, December 1, 2022

Brunswick County pushes RO water treatment project options back by up to a year or more

Plans for the Northwest Water Treatment Plant include doubling its treatment capacity and adding low-pressure reverse osmosis technology to remove emerging contaminants from public drinking water. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy CDM Smith, Brunswick County)
Plans for the Northwest Water Treatment Plant include doubling its treatment capacity and adding low-pressure reverse osmosis technology to remove emerging contaminants from public drinking water. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy CDM Smith, Brunswick County)

Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from Brunswick County.

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — It now appears Brunswick County residents could receive reverse osmosis (RO) treated water from their taps as late as May 2023, more than one year later than first anticipated.

In a project addendum sent to prospective contractors in December and made public Monday, the county pushed back construction milestones for its planned $137 million upgrade and expansion project at the Northwest Water Treatment Plant.

Related: Environmental concerns raised over Brunswick’s delayed RO discharge permit

Four alternatives being bid include a June 2022 substantial completion date, seven months later than expected (one of which does not include RO technology); one alternative without RO includes a May 2022 date; one RO alternative includes a November 2022 date, 11 months later than expected; four RO alternatives include May 2023 deadlines, 17 months later than first anticipated. All include liquidated damages (fines) for contractors that continue work beyond the set deadlines.

Last spring, the county told water customers that low-pressure reverse osmosis treated water was still on track to be available in December 2021. By November, the county had delayed the deadline for bid documents by three months, indicating a further possibility of prolonging the project’s construction completion.

The most recent addendum for the project shows the substantial completion project deadline has been delayed by 17 months total for four bid alternatives out of the 10 total alternatives being studied.

According to Brunswick County, the May 2023 substantial completion deadline only applies to four bid alternatives. One alternative has a November 2022 operational use deadline for RO; this would provide contaminant-free water earlier than the four prolonged alternatives but still nearly one year later than first proposed.

Brunswick County’s spokesperson provided the following statement, explaining the ultimate choice is up to Commissioners: “It is not accurate at this time to say that customers will not receive reverse osmosis-treated water until May 2023. The Board of Commissioners have not yet selected the bid alternate to pursue for the project. Although excessive permitting review timeframes have impacted the project schedule, Brunswick County is committed to providing additional capacity and advanced treatment as soon as is practical.”

The recent addendum also completely removes RO technology from alternative no. six, marking two alternatives total out of 10 that are being bid without RO included. However, the county has affirmed it is committed to bringing an RO solution to the region.

When the county first chose to go ahead with an RO water treatment solution to address the emerging contaminant issue in the region, it announced construction would begin in June 2019. Now, the contract award will be issued May 11, 2020, according to the most recent addendum.

Brunswick County’s third project addendum provides prospective bidders with an updated construction milestone for substantial completion of the $137 million upgrade and expansion project. (Port City Daily screenshot/Courtesy Brunswick County)

Brunswick County’s spokesperson explained in November the reason behind the bid date delay (bids are now due in March), attributing it to concerns raised by contractors who said the timeline was too tight given the scope and complexity of the project.

The spokesperson also attributed the delay to the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) adjusted permitting schedule. Reverse osmosis treated water is not possible without discharging concentrate, which requires a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

Last month, a host of environmental groups raised concerns about the draft permit while still asking regulators not to delay the project. Brunswick County’s 4-mile concentrate discharge pipeline would release up to 5 million gallons a day (mgd) of the solution into the Cape Fear River, including an unknown amount of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances the plant is designed to remove from drinking water.

According to a DEQ spokesperson, the department will offer a final ruling on the permit in early March.


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

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