The results of a new water system feasibility study are about to open the floodgates on a frothy discussion over the possibility of a municipal water system for three northwestern Guilford County towns.
The town councils of Stokesdale, Oak Ridge and Summerfield, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and other interested parties will meet on Thursday, Sept. 6 to hear the results of the highly anticipated water study conducted by Timmons Group.
Though Timmons Group is keeping its findings under wraps until the meeting, the Rhino Times has obtained much of the information that will be in the report – including the estimated $52 million price tag for the infrastructure needed.
The new study was funded with money the State of North Carolina set aside to determine if it’s feasible for the three towns to form a regional water system that would allow for more growth and development in the area as well as address problems of dry or contaminated wells that have plagued parts of the northwest county.
Rockingham County also got state money for a similar effort to study adding to and expanding that county’s water system.
According to a source familiar with the new report on water for the three towns and unincorporated Guilford County, an infrastructure for a system that operates with large wells is estimated to cost $51.5 million while the infrastructure that brings in water from Winston-Salem would be $52.5 million.
The systems would include, among other major pipes, a 16-inch water main running along NC 150 in northwest Guilford County with secondary roads getting 12-inch pipes or possibly smaller ones in some areas. The system would provide water tanks of 750,000 gallons for each of the three towns and another 1 million gallon tank for unincorporated Guilford County.
When the process began two years ago, it looked as though the water would be brought down from Rockingham County, which has water in abundance. However, now it looks as though the water, if a system is approved, is more likely to come from Winston-Salem, Reidsville or from a ground water system of large wells.
When the City of Greensboro was asked if the city was willing to provide water for a system in northwest Guilford County, the city said no. One source said Reidsville also said no at first, but may now want to act as a water supplier for the three towns.
One question regarding the Winston-Salem source is whether that city is willing to offer the proposed new system an attractive cost for the water.
As for financing, some state money has been provided to start the work but the vast majority of the $50 million plus infrastructure would likely have to come from somewhere else. One source familiar with the study said that there are “plenty of loans available but no grants.”
The financing plan calls for the project to be paid for over a 30-year span from 2020 to 2050. This would be reflected in user bills that would vary based on water consumption but would be expected to start at an average of $89 a month per household and eventually move lower to about $50, with the money going toward operation and maintenance of the system.
There are three arrangements for control of the systems under consideration: An interlocal agreement, a water authority or a water district.
The study also calls for another study since this was a feasibility study but the next step would be an extensive geological study. One person in on the talks said a Stokesdale representative, when hearing that news in a preliminary meeting, began laughing and said, “So, in other words, this study is going to tell us we need to do another study?”
Area elected officials say they’re eager to hear the results of the study Thursday afternoon in the meeting to be held in Oak Ridge. There’s been a lot of concern among some residents who don’t want to see the development a water system is likely to bring to their area.
Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad said the three towns are going to have the ultimate say over their destinies.
“My position has always been that this should be dictated by the municipalities – Stokesdale, Summerfield and Oak Ridge,” Conrad said. “They can say ‘Yes, we’re interested,’ or, ‘No, we’re not.”
He said the towns might not all want the same thing.
“We’ve got three very unique municipalities,” Conrad said. “For instance, Stokesdale already has a water system.”
Some citizens are concerned about mandatory hookup fees – they say they don’t want to be forced to fund the water system if they don’t use it.
“Nobody is proposing that,” Conrad said of mandatory hookup fees.
Commissioner Jeff Phillips said that, though this first study is done, there would need to be a lot of steps taken before a new system would be in place. He said the new study was only the first step.
“This will give us a baseline projection moving forward,” Phillips said, adding that it will simply begin the conversation in earnest.
“Nobody is in until the jurisdictions decide they’re in,” he added.
Summerfield Town Councilmember Teresa Pegram said she’s heard a lot of concerns from citizens about mandatory water hookup and she said that, “from day one” she and others have made it clear that’s not acceptable. She said she worries about a water authority dictating rules to the communities down the line.
“We would have seats on a water authority but we won’t have choice,” she said of an authority.
She said Summerfield, for instance, might use the majority of the water but it’s not clear if any representation on a water authority would reflect that and give Summerfield more say than others.
“We do not want a water authority,” Pegram reiterated.