Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Brunswick sewer infrastructure boosted by $15 million state grant, McKim & Creed contract

The $15 million State Revolving Fund Grant will fund the design and construction of sewer infrastructure along Longwood Road. (Courtesy: Brunswick County)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — New initiatives are accelerating the expansion of wastewater infrastructure in Brunswick County, but concerns remain that disadvantaged regions will be left behind.

On Monday, the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a $14.9 million NC Department of Environmental Quality State Revolving Fund grant to fund the Longwood Road Sewer Project. It will include a 16,500 linear foot force main connecting with an existing pipeline in Grissettown, to go through Longwood Road up to Waccamaw Elementary School in Ash, an unincorporated community in the county.

Public utilities director John Nichols said the grant would cover connection charges, 2-inch collection mains along the route, and grinder pump stations. Staff is currently assessing areas along the route that would benefit from the system and is reaching out to property owners to gauge their interest in connecting to the service.

The grant is meant to help disadvantaged communities in Brunswick County; it will focus on underserved property owners along the route and enable the decommissioning of the school’s aging wastewater system.

However, the funding source remains a subject of controversy. NAACP president Carl Parker Sr. has criticized the commissioners repeatedly, including at Monday’s meeting, for not applying for the grant with sufficient urgency. 

He told PCD he estimates half of Brunswick’s African Americans remain disconnected from water and sewer infrastructure and rely on wells. At Monday’s meeting, he said many wells are collapsing and unable to function.

He also criticized the Longleaf grant project in a comment to PCD, arguing it was focused on caucasian communities along Longwood Road and would stop at the area with a higher proportion of African Americans.

The county previously told PCD they had difficulty applying to the state revolving fund in the past because of Brunswick County’s tier 3, or least distressed status, but said recent changes have allowed them to apply. 

Monday, Chairman Randy Thompson urged county staff to prioritize applications for the state revolving water fund grant.

The board also unanimously approved the creation of a sewer steering committee with the City of Boiling Spring Lakes to coordinate with the county on strategic infrastructure expansion. The steering committee will include chairman Thompson and Mike Forte — who was elected vice chair Monday in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Pat Sykes voted against the decision and made an earlier motion to nominate herself for the position. Parker also criticized the decision, having called for Forte’s resignation in 2020 over an inflammatory Facebook post. 

Gordon Hargrove, the city manager for the City of Boiling Spring Lakes, presented commissioners with a master plan for future sewer infrastructure. He argued it was imperative for his municipality to prepare for future development since Brunswick is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation; he said many septic systems in the city have recently failed, causing fears sewage will leak into nearby lakes.

“Sewer expansion will not only allow the town of BSL to prosper economically, it will also protect our biggest investment, our lakes and dams,” Hargrove said.

McKim & Creed contract and wastewater master plan

At their previous meeting on Nov. 20, the board of commissioners unanimously approved an agreement with McKim & Creed for services associated with the Northeast Brunswick Regional Wastewater System Treatment Plant (NEWWTP). The $1.9 million award of design contract will be funded through revenue bonds reimbursed through H2GO.

In 2019, the Department of Environmental Quality issued a violation to the NEWWTP for operating at 110% of state-permitted capacity — it was only permitted to treat 2.475 million gallons a day of wastewater at the time. To facilitate infrastructure demands posed by Brunswick’s rapid population growth, the county’s wastewater master plan aims to quadruple that figure to a capacity of 8.725 million gallons a day by 2025.

The most recent Brunswick County wastewater master plan was prepared by McKim & Creed in April 2023. The county’s new contract includes at least one item from the master plan; designing a 41,600-linear-foot transmission force main running north along Highway 17 from Rice Creek lift station to the intersection of US I-140 and Mount Misery Road.

The NEWWTP treats wastewater for Leland, Navassa, and Northwest, as well as a portion of the wastewater from Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO. The plant is located on Royce Road in Leland and is permitted to discharge treated wastewater in the Cape Fear River.

The county issued a request for qualification for the project in October 2022. They selected McKim & Creed and negotiated the scope of work earlier this year, which includes: 

  • Designing the force main, surveying and mapping wetland delineations for the pipeline route to send to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Preparing and submitting permits
  • Holding a pre-construction conference and monitoring progress on the force main

PCD reached out to McKim & Creed to ask about the project but did not hear back by press.

McKim & Creed has long had a presence in the Cape Fear region since Herb McKim and Mike Creed opened its first office in 1978 in downtown Wilmington. The fast-growing company now employs over 800 staff members across 29 offices in eight states. According to the Triangle Business Journal, its revenue was $150 million in 2022.

The firm contracts with the region’s major utilities providers, including Brunswick County utilities, Pender County utilities, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, and Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority.

The firm has a history of involvement in Brunswick; it provided planning, pipeline, and design services for Piedmont Natural Gas for the 7-mile North Brunswick/New Hanover gas line; provided modeling and planning for the West Brunswick Water Reclamation Facility; and emergency design repairs to water main ruptures caused by Hurricane Florence in Boiling Springs Lakes and Southport.

McKim & Creed vice president and regional manager Tony Boahn — who Wilmington Business Journal described as “behind nearly every major public water and sewer infrastructure project in the Cape Fear region” and has been Brunswick’s design consultant on wastewater treatment since at least 2019 — presented the wastewater master plan to the Brunswick commissioners in March. 

The 20-year plan calls for expansions to the county’s other WWTPs — including Ocean Isle Beach WWTP, Northeast Brunswick WWTP, Shallotte Mulberry WWTP and West Brunswick WWTP. It also recommends  decommissioning the Sea Trail WWTP and includes 42 force main projects, and improvements to several lift stations.

The county approved the master plan as a general blueprint rather than contractual obligation in May. Boahn urged the board to take immediate action on the plan.

Boahn wasn’t the only person to request immediate action to expand wastewater infrastructure at the May 1 commissioner meeting; Brunswick NAACP president Carl Parker presented a petition signed by 376 Brunswick residents urging commissioners to extend water and sewer infrastructure to African American communities throughout the county.

PCD reached out to Boahn to ask how the master plan would impact disconnected African American communities; he referred all questions to Brunswick County spokesperson Meagan Kascsak.

Before the commissioners approved McKim & Creed’s new contract for the NEWWTP at the Nov. 20 meeting, Parker again gave a public comment lamenting the issue. He told Port City Daily he believes the county prioritizes water and wastewater infrastructure for new developments, while neglecting African American residents who remain disconnected.

Kascsak told Port City Daily the county is working to provide wastewater services to underserved communities, with projects such as the Whiteville Road Force Main funded by a $1,052,500 HUD grant and Navassa wastewater improvements through a $2,852,818 State Reserve Grant.

The county’s growing need for wastewater service was demonstrated by two other approvals Nov. 20: the deed of dedication for sewer infrastructure for the Courtyards by Carrell Homes with a fiscal impact of $585,347, and for the Landing at Stone Chimney with a fiscal impact of $1,202,500. The lines have been tested and approved and are ready for incorporation into county utilities.

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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