Friday, April 12, 2024

Wrightsville Beach and CFPUA arrive at deal to bolster town’s water supply

Wrightsville Beach and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority arrived at standard-rate agreement for up to 150 million gallons of water. (Port City Daily/File)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — Town leaders are moving forward with a water purchase from Cape Fear Public Utility Authority at the standard rate. Negotiations for a new contract were prompted by high chloride readings in town wells, creating a need for additional water supply, and were settled shortly before the existing deal between the town and CFPUA was set to expire in April.

With around half of the town’s wells yielding high chloride levels, town officials, in January, proposed purchasing 150 million gallons of water from CFPUA — enough to fulfill the town’s water needs for six months. 

Wrightsville Beach sought to purchase the water at the same discounted rate — $0.65 per thousand gallons — offered by CFPUA in 2019. When that deal was made PFAS compounds had contaminated Wrightsville Beach’s Well No. 11, on the mainland near Allens Lane. The substances — spawned by decades of pollution from Chemours and DuPont — were believed to have migrated from a nearby CFPUA well.

The town discontinued use of Well No. 11 at the time and CFPUA gave Wrightsville Beach a three-year deal, at the reduced rate, to replace the approximately 20% of town water sourced from Well No. 11. CFPUA then described the arrangement as providing a “short-term mutual aid rate to a neighbor affected by a regional issue.”

In recent months the town worked to extend that agreement — some of its wells will be out of commission while the chloride issues settle, and the summer season approaches.

In a board meeting Wednesday — the day before Wrightsville Beach’s elected officials met — CFPUA approved selling the town up to 150 million gallons at the standard bulk rate of $3.48 per thousand gallons. Board members noted the three-year deal from 2019 was always meant to be short-term, WECT reported. 

Hanging over the conversation about Wrightsville Beach’s water needs is the prospect of CFPUA fully supplying the town with 300 million gallons per year. (The town is moving forward with $2-million worth of improvements to its utility infrastructure with that potential in mind.)

“The town needs the water,” Mayor Darryl Mills said Thursday. “We can’t sustain the water needs of Wrightsville Beach with our wells.”

Town manager Tim Owens said the town lost 20% of its water supply when Well No. 11 was taken out of commission in 2019. The discounted water at that time was then supplied by CFPUA at the rate at which it cost to produce, according to Owens. 

The pandemic and the CFPUA’s concentration on PFAS pollution had delayed negotiations for next steps after the expiration of the 2019 deal, Owens said, though in recent months the high chloride levels pushed the conversation back to the fore. 

The board of aldermen, during its meeting Thursday, pushed back against media reports that cast their efforts to achieve another discounted rate as an attempt to get preferred treatment. 

“We just wanted the rate for water we were getting from that well,” said Alderman Ken Dull. “We were not asking for anything special.”

According to a memo from CFPUA Executive Director Kenneth Waldroup, the town violated terms of the previous contract by exceeding “the terms of use in that contract in both time and water consumption.” There was no penalty built into the 2019 deal. Though in the updated contract, endorsed Thursday by the board of aldermen, a 1.5-times modifier will be applied to billing periods where the town exceeds usage limits. 

“Thinking that Wrightsville Beach can provide its own water for years to come: That train left the station a long time ago,” said Mayor Pro Tem Hank Miller. 

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