Calabash residents bring questions about future sewer system

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

CALABASH—A steady flow of residents brought questions and sought answers at an informational wastewater system workshop.

The three-hour session Aug. 28 was designed to give future sewer-system customers a chance to talk with county officials and representatives with HDR Engineering, the company designing the town’s future $7 million wastewater system.

Invited were residents of Calabash Acres, Beach Drive West, Harbor Drive, Persimmon Road, Village Green, Pine Bur Acres, Bay Point, Carlyle Acres and any others in the future project area involving about 700 parcels.

The bottom line of their concerns almost unanimously had to do with the bottom line—how much the system is going to cost them.

“I’m learning I’m more in debt now than I was when I came in, more so because my fixed income just went down,” Ted Murphy of Pine Bur Acres said, studying a map showing areas targeted for future sewer service.

“All them people in Pine Bur Acres are on a fixed income and can’t afford that much,” Murphy said as he stood with town commissioner John Melahn and residents Roger Smith and Cynthia Pittman.

Murphy said people in Pine Bur Acres have spent thousands installing septic systems that may be just a few years old. Yet they still have to help pay for the sewer system or the county can take their property, “which is a little communistic,” he said.

Pittman said she attended on behalf of her mother who lives in Bay Point and also is concerned about paying the bills.

“We’re dealing with people on fixed incomes that are barely surviving,” she said. “Gas costs and everything are going up, except incomes.”

Waivers and costs

Residents questioned a chart showing waivers for those connecting to the system within 12 months of sewer service. The waivers include capital recovery fees of $3,000 and sewer transmission fees of $1,000. Sewer tap fees are included in assessments.

A grinder pump installation fee of $4,000 will be implemented after 12 months of sewer service for properties served by a low-pressure sewer system.

Homeowners on a gravity sewer system will be responsible for building gravity sewer service lines on their property, which can be done by a licensed plumber.

Homeowners on low-pressure systems will be responsible for building gravity sewer lines on their property and contracting with an electrician to connect to a grinder pump station.

All homeowners connecting to the system must properly abandon their septic tanks.

The county will be responsible for constructing lines in street rights-of-way.

County officials have said overall costs are unknown until the sewer system is in place in 2010, but estimations are in the $10,000-per-parcel range.

The county won’t require existing homeowners to connect to the system once service becomes available but will still charge an availability fee that is currently $18 per month, according to an information sheet supplied at the workshop. County commissioners were scheduled to revisit the issue Tuesday night but tabled the action until its next meeting.

County commissioners have options of allocating costs based on the number of lots receiving service, front footage of lots on the street, parcel size or a combination of those methods.

According to the county fact sheet distributed at the session, all lots will be assessed the same way.

The town also is applying for a $500,000 Brunswick County Rural Center Grant to help fund the wastewater collection expansion project.

Calabash Commissioner Emily DiStasio questioned availability fees being implemented by the county as well as other lingo associated with sewer charges.

“What’s a capital recovery fee?” she asked. “It doesn’t tell me a damn thing.”

She said she would like to see the assessment span 10 years instead of 20 and “paying it through taxes instead of public utilities.”

If someone sells his or her home, the charges could be passed on to the next homeowner, she said.

Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or at llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.