Wilmington, NC – After lengthily debate, the Wilmington City Council last night approved ten proposals that could become the basis for a Special Order of Consent with the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The binding agreement would trade strict repair deadlines for regulatory flexibility, such as allowing the city to divert more sewage from the Southside to the Northside treatment plant, bypassing the troubled NEI sewer line.
The city announced it was seeking an SOC at a meeting with the state legislative delegation last month.
Councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the ten proposals, which include limiting added flow from all new commercial developments to 40,000 gallons a year, with priority given to projects with water-conservation strategies.
City Manager Sterling Cheatham says the original proposal to limit commercial construction to so-called low-flow projects, those contributing 500 gallons or less a year, raised complaints from developers.
"The typical office building could not exceed, I think, 5,000 square feet," Cheatham said of the original plan, "and it would be a very low-use water operation, like a realtor's office or an insurance broker, that kind of thing."
Cheatham emphasized that the plan is an attempt to balance the needs of development with a state order to reduce flows on the NEI.
"We certainly wanted to significantly retard commercial activity until these improvements were made," Cheatham said, "but did not want to, did not intend to, flat out eliminate [it]."
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Councilwoman Pat Delair voiced the strongest objections to the proposals, saying they do not do enough to slow increases on the line.
"I think we have a potential situation that, if we don't decrease the flow to our system, and if these items don't really address that in terms of real, significant reduction of flow, we're going to have some major problems this summer," Delair said, voicing a concern for what may happen when the summer tourist crowds arrive at Wrightsville Beach.
Regarding the limits to residential and commercial construction, "I don't see anything significant in either of those two items that will reduce flows," Delair said. She proposed suspending hook-ups for all subdivisions and banning high water-use projects such as hotels.
Councilman Jim Quinn urged his fellow members to pass the resolution, admitting the provisions might not turn out to be the best solutions in the long run, but that they are based on the best information and expertise available.
The council voted unanimously after being assured there would be opportunities for further discussion of the proposals.
Other items on the list included the creation of a public awareness campaign to pass along water conservation strategies, especially to residents along the NEI, and attempts to mitigate storm water infiltration into the system.
Although the measure passed Wilmington's City Council, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners must also approve the parameters before local governments can begin negotiations with the state. However, Cheatham said several of the sewage reduction proposals could be put in action earlier.
The City of Wilmington's sewer information page