As North Carolina’s second-smallest and most urbanized county, New Hanover County has been at a disadvantage in one important economic-development resource: suitable sites for industry. Even so, the county does have a number of areas that could sustain high-value industrial development, if that development is supported by the right infrastructure.
This was a key component of the “Pathways to Prosperity” report, which highlights infrastructure development as a priority for New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington, in conjunction with Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA).
That is the reason for a $16.7 million project, aimed for completion in mid-2019, to extend water and sewer service to the entire length of the U.S. 421 corridor in New Hanover County, from the Isabel Holmes Bridge to the Pender County line. Adequate water and sewer lines for industrial sites will further the county’s ability to recruit and retain high-quality jobs for our citizens and advance our vision for economic growth.
An important first step came in April when our Board of Commissioners approved a $2.1 million capital project to design, permit and acquire rights of way for the water and sewer service. Next year’s proposed county budget includes an appropriation for construction along the industrial corridor.
Served by the multi-lane highway U.S. 421, as well as the Interstate 140 Outer Loop freeway, this peninsula between the Cape Fear River’s two branches is zoned for heavy industry use. It has been an important source of jobs for many years, but has never had the full utility services that are essential for high-value manufacturing and other commercial uses.
The recommended county budget for fiscal year 2016-17 includes an additional $14.6 million capital project to lay pipes and build the rest of the system. It will include a water main and pump station, and a sewer force main and collection system. If this is approved as part of next year’s budget, water and sewer service should be available along U.S. 421 to the Pender County line starting in July 2019.
This project came together when water mains were laid under the Northeast Cape Fear River. This provided water service to the Flemington residential area off U.S. 421, and the county added a sewer crossing. Many years earlier, New Hanover County had built a water system for that community’s residents, to replace private wells that had become contaminated by a long-defunct solid waste landfill. But that system depended on a well that didn’t have the capacity to support needed expansion, and didn’t include sewer service.
This project will complete the modern infrastructure for this important part of the county, which already provides major transportation and utility services. The Northeast Cape Fear River, which borders the corridor’s eastern edge, is navigable for ocean-going and barge traffic. An industrial rail spur runs parallel to U.S. 421 and serves a number of industrial plants. The Outer Loop freeway is already a fast connection to Interstate 40 and points north, and when complete next year will give high-speed access to U.S. 17 southbound and U.S. 74-76 going west.
A major natural gas line now serves the U.S. 421 corridor. This allowed Duke Energy to convert its Sutton Steam Plant, originally built in the 1950s, from burning coal to much cleaner and more efficient gas operation. The Sutton Plant, of course, is an essential part of the entire region’s energy supply.
For the past three decades, a high-capacity “raw water” line has made untreated water from the Cape Fear River available to large users in the U.S. 421 corridor for use in heavy industrial processes. That supply, however, isn’t suitable for human consumption.
An ample supply of treated water, along with high-volume sewage treatment, are necessary for businesses that employ or serve significant numbers of people. This proposed new system will distribute up to 660,000 gallons a day of high-quality drinking water from CFPUA’s Sweeney Water Treatment Plant, and will send wastewater to CFPUA’s Northside Treatment Plant.
Our economic development partners tell us that we have a valuable asset in the U.S. 421 industrial corridor, and that its value will increase significantly with this last piece of infrastructure in place. Providing the public resources necessary to maximize that value, and encourage job creation through the higher use of currently under-utilized land, is another way New Hanover County is the model of good governance.
New Hanover County is committed to progressive public policy, superior service, courteous contact, judicious exercise of authority, and sound fiscal management to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow. See more at http://www.nhcgov.com.
Christina Haley O'Neal - Jan 27, 2020
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