Monday, April 15, 2024

Pender boosts east county water plant project budget by $1.2 million, secures location

Pender County is moving forward on the Membrane Water Treatment Plant in eastern Pender County. (Courtesy: Pender County, CDM Smith)

PENDER COUNTY — Plans are moving forward to build a new water treatment plant in eastern Pender County after years of difficulty identifying a location.

At the board of commissioners meeting Monday, CDM Smith vice president Reed Barton said the county is now two weeks away from closing on a 300-acre property near the intersection of U.S. 17 and N.C. Hwy. 210 for the site, which has re-initiated design efforts.

At the meeting, commissioners unanimously approved an increase to the Membrane Water Treatment Plant budget by $1.2 million. The funds will come from Pender County Utilities.

CDM Smith, the lead contractor for the project, estimates costs for the Membrane WTP and transmission went from about $75 million in 2019 to currently $110 million. The budget increase is meant to help cover new expenses, which Barton attributed to inflation of labor, surveying, and subcontractor costs, as well as an expanded project scope. 

In a letter to director of utilities Anthony Colon, CDM Smith vice president and senior project manager Gregory Roy wrote the $1,251,860 fee change involves approximately $6.7 million in remaining professional services to be performed on the project. PCD reached out to the county for the total amount allocated to CDM Smith but did not receive a response by press.

Roy identified several changes in the scope of service, including a survey for the new property site, a second engineering report, and changes in well planning.

Barton said Pender staff first worked with the firm to identify the demand for growth in water infrastructure in the eastern part of the county in early 2017; these efforts culminated in the eastern water service master plan created in December 2019. The core components of the program include:

  • Building a new Membrane Water Treatment Plant
  • 15-plus miles of water mains to distribute treated water
  • Booster pump station improvements
  • 500,000 gallon Scotts Hill elevated storage tank (currently under construction)
  • Three new water supply wells
  • Additional pump at Surface WTP

The Surface WTP is currently the county’s only water treatment plant. It is located on the western side of the county near U.S. 421 and reaches the eastern part through a 19-mile transmission line. Barton argued it’s service was insufficient for the fast-growing county, even after recent renovations.

“The idea is you would have a water supply on either side of the county,” Barton said. “That adds greater redundancy and allows you to get water to your customers without having to pipe it 40 miles, which is not very efficient.”

The new plant is designed to pump 3 million gallons a day. Membrane water treatment functions by removing salts and pulling water out of the water table. 

Barton said $74 million has been raised for the project to date, entirely financed by the North Carolina Department for Environmental Quality’s Drinking Water State Revolving Funds program. DWSRF gave the county a $5 million grant for the project; the remaining $69 million comes from loans ranging between 0.1% and 0.18% interest rates.

Barton said the county is allowed to submit SRF funding applications every six months, which it’s been doing for the past three years; several grant applications are pending.

“Some rounds we get some funding, some rounds we don’t — it’s based on competition with every other municipality,” Barton said.

The Scotts Hill elevated tank and the three well sites along U.S. 17 — the Hampstead Tank well, Hoover Road well, and EMS elevated tank and well — were bid together and are currently under construction. The new wells and tank are scheduled for completion by spring 2024 and are designed to serve as an immediate solution in the multi-year interim period before the new plant is established.

The new wells and Scotts Hill elevated tank are approximately $11 million and have also been covered through State Revolving Funds grants and loans; the county received a $2 million grant and $9 million in loans with a 0.18% interest rate.

Construction to expand pumps at the surface water plant is also under way. Last year, the county and CDM Smith received state approval to double the amount of water produced from the plant from 2 million to 4 million gallons a day.

Colon said he’d spoken to D.R. Horton and other developers regarding concerns that insufficient water infrastructure could hinder development. He said increased capacity from the surface WTP and new wells will help facilitate developments in Rocky Point, Blake Farms, and Batson Road.

“We will do some building,” Colon said. “I’m not stopping construction.”

The membrane treatment plant and associated treatment piping are currently in the design stage. This aspect of the plan was put on hold in 2020 following difficulties in finding a property for the site. Environmental concerns and the need for a new school hindered previous property considerations.

“Finding large property that is not wetland in the county is very difficult,” Barton said. 

PCD reached out to the county for more details about the site property and the project timeline but did not receive a response by press.

Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at

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