Wilmington, NC – State and local officials hope to bring the area's sewer problems out in the open at a meeting Thursday afternoon.
Elected officials from Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, and New Hanover County called for the meeting after reading in the Star-News that the region's legislators had discussed a possible state take-over of the area's sewer system.
Local officials say they intend to present a number of proposals for lowering flow to the decrepit Northeast Interceptor sewer line, which the state has barred from any new connection permits. The main plan would divert sewage from the Porter's Neck area to the Northside Treatment Plant, which is currently undergoing enlargement. The shift would require state approval to increase the plant's allowed capacity.
The Northeast Interceptor is maintained by the city of Wilmington, and handles sewage from the city, Wrightsville Beach and the County.
New Hanover County Commissioner Bill Kopp says the meeting is a chance to educate the state delegation and local residents. "The general public wants to know when the backhoe is going to be digging holes in the ground to put new pipe in," Kopp said.
As for the legislative delegation, Kopp said the issue is more their need to know what's happening with the sewer, "not so much whether or not they agree with what's happening."
Both sides say they support the city signing a Special Order of Consent with the state's Division of Water Quality to set a timeline for the city's sewer repairs. The agreement would carry fines for the city if it fails to make its improvements by set deadlines. In return, city officials want the state to commit to speeding up the permitting process for the necessary construction.
State Senator Julia Boseman says she's definitely interested in hearing solutions. Boseman and state Representative Danny McComas both said they became involved in the issue after hearing repeatedly from concerned residents.
And Boseman doesn't rule out state involvement, although she says a complete takeover is probably impossible.
"Certainly DENR [the Department of Environment and Natural Resources] is able to issue a total moratorium on taps if they deem that's necessary," Boseman said, "[if] we want to introduce legislation to divert the Convention Centers funds to go toward the sewer system, that's another option that we have."
To avoid those actions, Wilmington will present a list of proposals to take some of the burden off the NEI until its replacement is complete. Ideas range from an increased effort to keep stormwater out of the sewer system, to widening the moratorium to the entire area served by the Northside Treatment plant. The city is also asking that the state continue allowing individual taps to the NEI for residential projects, and only restrict commercial construction to "low-flow" projects of 500 gallons or less.
The meeting takes place Thursday, March 8, at 4pm in the old County Courthouse at the corner of 3rd and Princess Streets in Wilmington.