County Bans All New Building Permits Around NEI

Wilmington, NC – New Hanover County has stopped issuing all new building permits in the eastern part of the county until the area's troubled sewer line is fixed.

The decision to halt all new connections to the NEI comes a day after the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources sent a letter requesting such a ban.

The letter is part of negotiations between the state, the city of Wilmington, and the county to draw up a Special Order of Consent, wedding the city to strict a timeline for sewer repairs. Last month, the City Council approved the ten measures to reduce flow on NEI it wants to see included in the order, including a plan to limit new commercial connections to the line. In a city press release Wednesday, DENR's letter is quoted as describing that proposal as "unacceptable."

Wilmington spokesperson Malissa Talbert described DENR's letter as the "first volley" in the negotiating process.

The area is already under a state imposed moratorium on new hook-ups, but that only covered what are known as extensions: medium-sized pipes that funnel the waste from a number of buildings into the main sewer line. The county's decision will expand that ban to include individual tap-ins to the line from new houses or commercial buildings, effectively covering all new construction.

New Hanover County Commissioner Bill Kopp says this was not a move his board took lightly.

"I told someone today that it is probably the hardest decision that I will have to make during this four year term," Kopp said Wednesday. "This is going to have a tremendous financial impact on a lot of people."

Under the county's order, no new residential or commercial construction will be permitted in the area until repairs to the line are complete, which is expected to be next spring. Builders who already have their permits in hand will not be effected. And the county will allow projects that don't connect to the sewer, such as houses with septic tanks.

Kopp said that while DENR's letter to the city didn't explicitly require a ban on new connections, a second letter sent by the department to the region's General Assembly delegation made it clear that the state was telling, not asking, the region to stop permitting.

The NEI serves the eastern part of the New Hanover County, bounded roughly by Market and South College streets to the west and Wilmington city limits to the north and south.

Map of the area served by the NEI (.pdf)

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