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Union County lifts permit cap but longterm wastewater solution still not decided

New records obtained by WBTV show more than a dozen projects in Union County that have received permit approval but are not yet using any of their allotted sewage capacity.
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 7:03 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Union County Commissioners have removed a cap placed on permits because of capacity issues at the Twelve Mile Creek wastewater treatment plant. The permit pause halted new construction projects in western Union County as the applications started piling up.

New records obtained by WBTV show more than a dozen projects in Union County that have received permit approval but are not yet using any of their allotted sewage capacity. Hundreds of other projects are using just a portion of their permitted capacity.

County staffers and commissioners are counting that unused wastewater capacity when they recently reported that the Twelve Mile Creek facility is still at 98 percent capacity.

Since commissioners removed the permit cap on August 31, county staff reports that four new permits have been submitted for approval. Still, there were two dozen building projects waiting in the pipeline since the permit moratorium was issued on January 11.

During the meeting on August 31, county staff highlighted several measures commissioners had taken that lead to their recommendation to remove the cap. That included a project to fix infiltration in the sewage pipes that hurt the capacity numbers.

Still, staff said that county commissioners would need to approve funding and construction for a new wastewater treatment plant in western Union County to handle to anticipated capacity.

“That’s not something that should be on the backs of the ratepayers,” County Commissioner Stony Rushing previously told WBTV.

Rushing has been an advocate against water and wastewater increases to pay for a new plant.

Over the past two years, water and wastewater rates in Union County have increased by 30 percent costing the average family of four an additional $27 per month.

Paying for a new treatment plant to increase capacity and allow for more growth, would likely mean another rate increase.

“If we can’t do it with the money that we’re bringing in then maybe we shouldn’t again be doing some of these projects,” Rushing said.

In 2016, county staff presented a Water and Sewer Master Plan to provide for the construction of a new Lower Crooked Creek Water Reclamation Facility. The area currently sends flows to the 12 Mile Creek basin. Creating a new facility there would free up additional capacity in the 12 Mile basin.

However, Union County Commissioners did not give approval for the plan to move forward at the time.

“I don’t think we have an option,” County Commission Chairman Richard Helms told WBTV.

“You want to harm our economy. Do nothing.”

Helms says that he’s hoping the county’s good bond rating will keep the impact on ratepayers low.

But the ultimate question is whether investing in Union County is a smart option as the future of development remains uncertain.

Asked whether Union County was still open for business, Rushing and Helms provided two divergent answers.

“There are plenty of places around the Charlotte region that that like growth, need growth probably more than we do,” Rushing said.

“We’re trying to plan and get more capacity, so we’ll have the opportunity to grow, but without that wastewater treatment plant we have very little options,” Helms said.

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