Much ballyhooed plans for a major new municipal water system for northwest Guilford County are looking a lot right now like they are – well, dead in the water.
Many parties involved say there hasn’t been much activity around the proposed project in recent months and they add that the enthusiasm for the proposal seems to be dissipating – largely due to the high price tag.
Guilford County and three towns in the Northwest part of the county – Stokesdale, Oak Ridge and Summerfield – have been in talks for over a year to determine the viability of the proposed project that would bring a new municipal water system to the three towns. One interesting part of the equation is that the decision of each town is tightly connected to what the other towns decide: If all three towns give the go-ahead, the price is lower for each. If any don’t want to participate – which now appears to be the case – the project becomes less feasible for the others.
Though the water system idea got a great deal of attention in 2018, over the last six months, there’s been little discussion about it – though several Guilford County official said this week they do expect more talks on the matter in 2019.
The last major public event related to the proposed water system took place on Thursday, Sept. 6 of last year, when the town councils of Oak Ridge, Stokesdale and Summerfield met with the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to discuss whether the county’s northwestern towns and surrounding areas should get a water system. At that large, joint meeting, held at the Oak Ridge Town Hall, the town council members and county commissioners heard the results of a feasibility study that was conducted by the Timmons Group and paid for with state funds.
One thing some town officials at that meeting clearly didn’t like was the cost and that seems to be the thing that’s put a damper on everyone’s plans. According to the estimates from Timmons at that meeting, if the water was provided by a system of large wells, the infrastructure would cost an estimated $52.5 million. To build the system with water purchased from Reidsville would cost about $58 million.
The NC General Assembly has provided Guilford County about $3.5 million to study the water system and get it started if the county and the towns decide to take that action. But that money must be spent or encumbered by June 30, 2020, or it would return to the state – though it’s possible the county and the three towns could get an extension on that deadline if needed. While $3.5 million is a lot of money to win in a lottery ticket, it doesn’t go that far when it comes to a $50-million-plus water system.
Chairman Guilford County Board of Commissioner Alan Branson, along with other commissioners, said there hadn’t been much discussion lately on the matter among elected officials but he added that the managers of the local governments had still been in talks.
Commissioner Skip Alston said he hadn’t heard anything at all regarding the discussion in months.
Summerfield Town Councilmember John O’Day said this week that the project was much more viable if all the towns went into it together and he added that it certainly doesn’t look like everyone is on board.
“Stokesdale is out,” O’Day said flatly.
He said other town officials in northwest Guilford County have expressed concerns regarding the high price tag as well and he added that, if one town, such as Summerfield, wanted to go it alone – even with Guilford County’s involvement – it gets very expensive.
“The cost would be really, really high,” he said.
O’Day said one reason Summerfield needs a water system is to assure adequate available water for fire protection, but he said that some smaller scale solutions might be viable. He said that a community water tower, for instance, could help serve some of the needs that a full-scale municipal water system would have addressed.
Summerfield Town Councilmember Dena Barnes said that right now everyone is waiting on more information.
“We’re waiting to find out what the managers present,” Barnes said. “We are also expecting to find some additional information about the cost. Then we will know if it’s four-way, three-way, two-way or no-way Jose.”
Regardless, she said, she believes there has been a benefit to going through this process.
“I don’t think it’s been a waste of time,” Barnes said, adding that the study so far helps her town know more about its fire safety needs.
She also said that it’s important for the county’s northwest to plan for its future water needs even if the plan doesn’t lead to immediate action.