Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Brunswick County commits $5M to latest wastewater expansion

An aerial image of the Ocean Isle Wast Water Treatment Plant included in the Brunswick County’s annual wastewater report (Brunswick County).

BOLIVIA — Brunswick County is dedicating millions in relief funding to the latest in a long line of projects to improve its wastewater system.

Monday, commissioners voted unanimously without discussion to use $5 million from its $27.7 million pot of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to design the expansion of the Ocean Isle Beach wastewater treatment plant.

READ MORE: Brunswick sewer systems so maxed out, a ‘pump-and-haul’ operation interrupted school pickups

Ocean Isle opened the facility in 1999 and gave it to Brunwsick in 2012 to join the county’s centralized utility system. Now, the location is taking on redirected water from decrepit sites the county is decommissioning, and it needs to handle more water to match the population growth.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a 5.5% increase between 2020 and 2021, totaling almost 8,000 more people countywide. Census data notes the county went from 107,431 residents in 2010 to 136,639 in 2020.

Brunswick County Public Utilities Director John Nichol said a typical three-bedroom residence in Brunswick County uses about 210 gallons of wastewater per day. Ocean Isle Beach alone needs another 550,000 gallons of water treatment to meet its needs.

All told, the upgraded site will serve roughly 12,400 residences.

Last year, the county analyzed where it can improve its wastewater facilities and which should go offline. In the case of the Ocean Isle treatment centers, the county has been sending water north to its west regional water facility, as a pair of smaller facilities in Ocean Isle do not have space to expand.

The Ocean Ridge location, which sits on a piece of land off West Seaside Road, treated only 100,000 gallons of water and was taken out of service in 2015; it had its water rerouted to Ocean Isle. Off Angel Trace Road, The Sea Trail plant — which handles 300,000 gallons — is going to be retired after the new wastewater facility is operational.

The $5 million commissioners approved in ARPA funding will be the first step in what is projected to take $65 million to see through completion of the 6049 Yarbrough Street SW structure. The money will include the purchase of an undetermined amount of land around the site.

When complete, it will raise the amount of water flowing through Ocean Isle from 1.05 million to 3.05 million gallons per day. The exact details of the upgrades, new disposal systems and the land purchase will be determined by engineering work on the site. The county will send out a request for qualifications to solicit firms in coming weeks.

“There are a lot of aging systems at the plant, particularly the effluent disposal systems,” Nichols said.

The goal of disposal is to return treated effluent — a term for liquid waste — to the water table. Several methods exist for ridding it post treatment, though the Ocean Isle facility currently uses spray irrigation. Another method Nichols suggested as a possibility is infiltration ponds, where water builds up and gradually seeps into the ground.

Brunswick County has six wastewater sites and has been upgrading its water infrastructure for years with the long-term goal of consolidating. In 2006 the county built the West Brunswick reclamation facility to treat 3 million gallons per day and has built capacity over the years, adding another 3 million in 2009 to accommodate Oak Island’s needs. 

Southport joined the west regional system in 2008, and the town will be the most recent beneficiary of upgrades as the county pursues building a 750,000-gallon Mulberry Branch Water Reclamation Facility. The project went up for bid on Sept. 15 and closes Oct. 19. Construction is expected to begin this fall and wrap by fall 2024.

In 2013 the county upgraded the capacity of the Northeast Brunswick regional wastewater plant from 1.65 million to 2.475 million gallons per day, and the county added another 2.5 million gallons to its capacity in 2021.

Caswell Beach gave its utility system to the county in 2015. Northwest and Navassa did the same in 2020.

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