When the COVID-19 pandemic started in China in late 2019, no one could foresee that the health crisis on the other side of the planet would lead to an expansion of municipal water systems in Guilford County – but that’s what happened in what may be called one version of the Butterfly Effect.
During the pandemic, Guilford County got lots of state and federal help, including $104 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) money from the federal government. In August, at a work session, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate $41 million in ARP funds received by the county – and a whole lot of those dollars went to towns in Guilford County for municipal water quality enhancement, water system planning, and implementation and expansion of existing systems.
“Our goal for using these one-time American Rescue Plan Act funds is to make transformational improvements for all of Guilford County,” Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Skip Alston said at the time. He listed “increased water access” as one type of infrastructure investment that will “bring jobs, economic opportunity, and improved quality of life all county residents.”
Some in the county’s small towns – like a group in Summerfield – have fought the development of municipal water systems arguing that it will lead to too much development and ruin the rural way of life in the town.
Funding approved at that August work session included $7.8 million for the Town of Summerfield, of which $5.5 million will “support a feasibility study and initial implementation of a new water system and improved water access for fire services,” $5.5 million for the Town of Pleasant Garden to construct a “4-mile water/sewer infrastructure addition serving the Pleasant Garden Business District,” $5.9 million to the Town of Gibsonville to “build a new water tank to improve fire flow throughout the Town and support the addition of a 12” waterline along NC 61 to improve water quality in the historically underserved areas of northwest Gibsonville.
Also, $3.57 million was approved for the Town of Oak Ridge – $3.265 million of which is to support the initial phase of a multi-phase project to provide water service to residents – as well as to increase water access for the Oak Ridge Fire Department.
There’s also $3.1 million for the Town of Stokesdale to add about five miles of new water line “to secure a second source of water for the town to increase water flow, hydrant pressures, and to allow redundancy in the system should one line become unavailable.”
Finally, $200,000 was allocated by the board to go toward water infrastructure improvements in southwest Guilford County along NC 62 to help fire protection.
So, the pandemic indirectly jump started water projects across the county. But there are still a whole lot of questions out there.
Recently, Don Wendelken, a newspaper publisher in Summerfield, posted on his Summerfield Scoop website that “Summerfield’s history of starting and completing projects could be a game changer. Over the years, Summerfield officials and the Town Manager have used consultants because Summerfield is a limited services town (per the town charter). As a result, they have inquired about multiple project ideas that cost taxpayers thousands upon thousands of dollars in consultant fees. Yet, some project ideas have been forgotten or are sitting on a dusty shelf.”
Wendelken went on the speculate that the new funds could depend on Summerfield farmer and developer David Couch’s next move regarding his plan to build apartments and additional multifamily housing. Wendelken said the primary “speed bump” to that could be water issues.