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BY LAURA LEWIS
CALABASH—Calabash commissioners have unanimously approved a request asking Brunswick County to put the town’s wastewater project on hold.
The request is to delay the estimated $7 million project once engineering is complete for not less than six months so the town can explore financial options.
Commissioners voted on the matter following a late closed session at the end of their monthly meeting Nov. 11. Commissioner John Melahn made a motion for the request, which was seconded by commissioner Emily DiStasio.
The measure also was approved by commissioners Bill Dixon and Forrest King. Commissioner Cecelia Herman was absent.
The request asks Brunswick County not to submit for permits from the state Department of Natural Resources, town clerk Kelley Southward said Monday.
Calabash Mayor Anthony Clemmons said the action was in response to petitions recently presented by residents in Calabash Acres and Pine Bur Acres who asked the town to exclude the two subdivisions from the proposed sewer system until homeowners are allowed to vote on the matter.
“As with any petition from our citizens, we certainly take it very seriously,” Clemmons said Tuesday. “We’re concerned about the petitioners and those that are not petitioners, so we look at both sides.
“One factor that played into this was with the state and uncertainty of the economy, we felt that we might take a pause at this time,” Clemmons said.
He said that would allow more time for the town to explore avenues of reducing property owners’ assessments for sewer, currently guesstimated at $10,000 per lot.
Clemmons said he is hopeful with the new presidential administration, more money for capital projects and infrastructure might become available to small towns.
“Although we’re in a holding pattern, we did approve in that motion to continue work on completing the engineering plans, because if we get additional funds or opportunities for additional funds, then we want to be at the ready-go,” Clemmons said.
Calabash Town Administrator Vincent Long said the town is still awaiting an invoice from the county for wastewater engineering work, which is about 95 percent complete. He estimated the work is going to cost the town between $300,000 and $400,000.
“It does raise a lot of different financial and budgetary impacts, so it’s hopeful the project will still be built,” Long said. “It’s just a matter of how it’s going to be financed. There’s still a commitment to get the project built.”
Long said the town and county have each applied for supplemental grants of $500,000 each from the North Carolina Rural Center for the wastewater project. He said they anticipate hearing something about the status of that in December.
He added the town would continue to pursue other financial opportunities.
Town and county officials continue to meet about the town project, with the next meeting slated for Dec. 11.
John Nichols, assistant director for Brunswick County public utilities, said the county is nearing completion of the design of the system.
“It makes sense to continue with that,” Nichols said Tuesday.
If construction is delayed, “we can re-evaluate,” he said. “If Calabash decides not to go forward with the projects, then I think commissioners have to determine what happens at that point as far as costs already incurred for the project up to this point.”
Calabash Acres resident Mitch Meares, one of the more vocal objectors to the project, said he appreciated the action town commissioners had taken.
“Finally the mayor and commissioners are beginning to listen to the people,” he said. “This is what we’ve been working on for several months.”