Pender County's plan to build a reverse osmosis water treatment plant that will serve the eastern portion of the county will get a boost from $20 million in state funding that the governor's office announced this week.
The project's funding was approved this month by the State Water Infrastructure Authority, which earmarked a $5 million grant and a $15 million loan for work on the county's planned reverse osmosis water treatment plant in its Rocky Point Topsail Water and Sewer District, and will service the county's needs, including those in the growing Hampstead and Scotts Hill areas.
The total cost of the project is estimated at about $67 million, said Kenny Keel, county's public utility director.
In an area of Pender County that is fast growing, such a plant is needed to meet the current and future demands of the area, he said.
During the summertime, the Hampstead and Scotts Hill areas tend to use about 1 million gallons of water a day, he said. But the plant that Pender County is planning to build would a plant that could treat 3 million gallons a day, with an option to design and expand the plant to push out 5 million gallons a day.
"So it will have the capability to not only serve the growth that we are expecting in the next 10 years or so, but it will be able to continue to grow with the area as well," Keel said.
Other streams of funding for the $67 million project are yet to be determined and could come in the form of federal, state and local sources.
The county also received nearly $8 million -- a nearly $2 million grant and nearly $6 million loan -- for an elevated water tank and three wells in the Scotts Hill Water and Sewer District.
Pender County received one of the largest totals in this most recent round of the State Water Infrastructure Authority awards.
"$20 million is typically the most given out to a project in a funding cycle," Keel said of the latest round of authority funding.
The authority is an independent body with primary responsibility for awarding federal and state funding for water and wastewater infrastructure projects, along with other responsibilities, stated a release Thursday from Gov. Roy Copper's office.
The county submitted the project earlier this year through the state and was selected as part of $194 million in loans and grants to help pay for 54 drinking water and wastewater projects, Cooper announced Thursday.
For the Pender project, a site is not determined at this point, Keel said, adding that ideally, the county would like to find a single site that's about "a couple hundred acres," Keel said.
"We're working on some possibilities as far as a location," he said. "The desire is for it to be somewhere along the U.S. 17 corridor in Pender County, but we don't have the property nailed down yet. We have a few different possibilities, and [we're] just in the early stages of that right now. But we're trying to get something nailed down pretty soon."
The county currently has a water plant off of U.S. 421 on the other end of the county, and water is pumped to get to the U.S. 17 corridor, he said.
"And so we've just got a single pipe-and-pump station that moves that water that far, and it's pretty much at its limit, about the quantity that could be pushed that far. And so we put on a study by an engineering firm ... and they completed that right at the end of last year in December to evaluate what the best options are for us to provide water to that area for the long term."
Of the options, he said, a new water treatment plant was the best and most viable option to meet the future needs of the area, he said.
Reverse osmosis is the best type of option to treat the well water in the region, and not particularly because of the Cape Fear region's GenX issue, he said.
Keel said there have not been any particular studies that have found such chemicals in the wells of the area.
GenX and other related chemical substances called per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS), have been identified in the Cape Fear River, discharged as part of The Chemours Co. operations in Fayetteville.
"The testing that we have done ourselves and that we have seen from some other wells in that area, did not have any of the PFAS or GenX chemicals. None of that has shown up in our particular area from water wells," Keel said. "Bu just the general quality of a lot of well water in the region requires a significant amount of treatment just to get it to where it's aesthetically pleasing and meets all EPA requirements.
"And so reverse osmosis is about the best way to treat that type of water to a high level and to be sure that if we do get some other contaminants in the future that we're not anticipating, and even if there is some migration of those PFAS chemicals that it would be able to handle that as well," he said.
Such a large project, however, is still about five years away from being operational, Keel said.
"Design and permitting will take quite a bit of time, probably as much as a couple of years. And construction itself will probably take at least a couple of years," Keel said. "We hope we can get it done a little faster than that, but the expectation is about five years from now."
To meet demands and growth in the interim, there are currently two wells that are under construction that will provide enough water to that area over the next few years. And an elevated tank and three more wells are slated to come in the next two years to supply the Hampstead and Scotts Hill area, he said.
"The wells we are building now and the three we hope to build in a couple of years, all of that together with what we have now should be enough to keep water to the area and allow growth to continue until our new [reverse osmosis] plant is ready and operational," Keel said. "And it will, of course, give us many years of supply."