Grant money eases Newton sewer woes

Since 2006, almost 160,000 gallons of untreated wastewater spilled from Newton sewer lines, and more than 140,000 gallons of raw sewage made its way to the area's freshwater streams.

Newton leaders hope a grant for almost $1.2 million from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) will help solve the problem Newton leaders have been wrestling the past few year.

Earlier this month, Newton received a grant for $1,175,274 to help fund replacement of the city's Burris Road Pump Station, where heavy rains have routinely helped spur untreated wastewater spills into McLin Creek tributaries. The grant funding will also pay for about 14,500 feet of force sewer main.

"We have beat this around forever, and we finally got a little good news," Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax said of the city's efforts to obtain funding to replace the pump station. "The Burris Road pump station has been a problem that the city council has been facing for several years, and thanks to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and its Board of Trustees, the city can proceed with the necessary repairs at a greatly reduced cost to our citizens."

Already, problems at the pump station have cost citizens. Spills at the site have resulted in fines for the city, totaling at least $400. Plus, the city previously spent more than $212,000 in 2004 to install new pumps, control systems and sewer lines in an effort to control overflows at the site. However, following the work, overflow problems persisted at the pump station which handles about 300,000 gallons of wastewater from both Newton and Conover each day.

Correcting the problem pump station will require $1.9 million in work, and since 2008, Newton leaders have grappled with how the project would be funded. in hopes of becoming eligible for a Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant, City Council increased Newton citizens' sewer rates by almost 15 percent during 2008.

By the end of the grant funding cycle for that year, Newton was still left without state funds, and problems continued at the pump station.

In 2009, city officials continued pursuing grant funds, again exploring another sewer $2.50 rate increase in hopes that the city's average residential sewer rates would meet minimum benchmarks set by the state. In the meantime, the city advanced with engineering work to determine the precise scope of the project, hoping that a "shovel ready" project might be better received by grant funding agencies.

However, in April 2009, the city learned it wouldn't get any help from the state, during that year's funding cycle, regardless of its rates or its project readiness,

That left Newton officials exploring other funding avenues, including a $1.9 million low-interest loan from the state department of environmental and natural resources.

"We looked under every rock for grant money," Newton City Manager Todd Clark said last month.

In fact the city received word in November that it would receive the requested $1.9 million loan, with a 2.22 percent interest rate fixed for 20 years. Newton City Council initially planned to consider approval of that loan during its Nov. 16 meeting — until good news came from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

"We did get the grant award," Clark said, adding it was slightly less than the expected project cost. "One-point-one million dollars is a home run for the city. I want to thank the mayor for working to contact the CWMTF board of trustees and championing this for the city of Newton."

Newton's grant for the Burris Road Pump Station was among 227 local governments, state agencies and land trusts that sought almost $249 million from the CWMTF during the 2010 grant cycle, said CWMTF Executive Director Richard Rogers.

While Newton will accept almost $1.2 million grant funds, Clark said the city will also accept a low-interest state loan to cover the remaining $800,000 in costs associated with the project.

"In a worst-case scenario, we got a loan at 2.2 percent," Mullinax said. "The best case is that we will have $1.1 million paid off for us."

With engineering and project design complete, Clark said the city is awaiting state approval of project plans.

"It is real important for us to move forward," he said. "All they have to do is approve it. It has been engineered, and it is ready to go."

Newton Public Works Director Wilce Martin said work should begin in 2011, and the project is estimated to be completed in 2013.