Beaufort, N.C., to build new wastewater facility

May 5--BEAUFORT -- A century changes things.

After making it through its first 200 years with no sewer infrastructure at all, the Town of Beaufort is celebrating the start of a project that will put a new state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant in operation as it turns 300 years old.

A groundbreaking ceremony was Thursday to mark the beginning of construction for the $17.9 million project that will replace the existing facility. It is scheduled for completion in October 2009.

"It is not an expansion; it is a replacement plant. Nonetheless, it is going to help us be able to offer a clean, environmentally safe facility for our citizens," Town Manager Terri Parker-Eakes said.

The current plant was built in 1969 and upgraded in 1986.

Mayor Richard Stanley said maintenance of the aging facility has become difficult and parts for the old plant are often not available and have to be custom made to make repairs.

The new plant will improve efficiency and provide an added water quality benefit by treating the wastewater discharged into Taylors Creek to a higher level.

"This will very much clean up the effluent," Stanley said, noting that the wastewater will be treated to a level that would allow its reuse for tasks such as irrigation and land application.

The town went beyond the state's requirements and chose a plant design with nutrient removal and tertiary filtration capability to treat the wastewater to a higher standard than it is currently capable.

"We made the decision to treat the wastewater to a higher level and make it cleaner," Parker-Eakes said. "We want to be environmentally conscious."

State Rep. Pat McElraft of Emerald Isle attended the ceremony and expressed support for the mix of state grants and loans that comprise the bulk of funding for the project.

The N.C. Cleanwater Management Trust Fund provided a $1.5 million grant to the town, and another $ 500,000 was awarded by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.

Local funding of $700,000 is going to the project and the remainder of the funding is coming from low-interest loans from state Construction Grants and Loans, a nonregulatory section of the Division of Water Quality that administers several funding sources for publicly owned wastewater treatment facilities.

"I'm really appreciative that the state has stepped up with this," McElraft said.

The Town of Beaufort voluntarily entered into a Special Order by Consent agreement with the N.C. Division of Water Quality in July 2004 to gain temporary relief from potential fines and new connection moratorium due to overflows in its sewer system.

Since that time, the town has done extensive work to improve the system. In addition to the new wastewater treatment plant, a major rehabilitation of the wastewater collection system now under way is scheduled for completion this summer.

Parker-Eakes said the rehabilitation will reduce the infiltration of rainwater into the system, keeping the plant from treating wastewater that shouldn't be there.

The current plant capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day won't be increasing, she said, but the improvements to the collection system will mean less unnecessary demand on the plant.

The new plant is expected to meet the town's needs over the next 20 or more years. And once the old plant is replaced, there will still be room on site to accommodate facility needs that may come up in the future.

The new wastewater treatment facility will include a sludge handling facility. There will also be an on-site operation center with control room, office space and laboratory, the town said.

"This is one of the most productive projects we've done since I've been on the board," said two-term Commissioner Charles McDonald.

Commissioner Marianna Hollinshed commended the work done by the town administration and past boards in getting the project to this point.

"Our job now will be to see that it gets done as it should," she said.

In addition to seeing the construction through to completion, Hollinshed said she believes the town should continue to pursue possible funding sources to help cover any expenses.

State Utility Contractors Inc. of Monroe is the contractor for the project, and Rivers and Associates of Greenville is the engineering firm.