After weeks of debate, Weddington's town council will likely decide tonight whether to allow a controversial private sewage treatment plant that would irrigate lawns of multi-million-dollar homes with reclaimed water.
State and local authorities say it would be a first for North Carolina. At least one similar municipal plant serves a Cary neighborhood, state officials say. Several private ones irrigate golf courses.
But what developers propose for The Woods, a planned neighborhood of homes priced $1.2 million to $3 million, is new: It would be the first privately run plant to use reclaimed water in a residential neighborhood.
That worries nearby residents who have brought signs to hearings saying, “No sewer plant please.”
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They fear the plant will be noisy and smelly, and will lower property values. The Friends of Weddington, a group opposed to the plant, hired lawyers and expert witnesses to represent them against the developer.
“No data is available whether it affects people's health and the long-term results of the filtration system,” said Debbie Hanrahan, a member who spoke at a public comment session last month.
Developers say using reclaimed water, which is treated but isn't considered safe to drink, is in keeping with their vision of green practices. The technology, they say, is state-of-the-art and safe.
The planned Woods development has been dogged by problems and opposition for months.
IB Development of Charlotte bought 200-plus acres near the intersection of Providence and Weddington roads for more than $23 million in November 2006, according to county records. The developers describe The Woods as a project of more than $340 million. The problem has been how to provide sewer service.
Union County has virtually no sewer capacity to offer new residential development. Developers say septic tanks aren't “economically feasible.” IB Development originally asked the county to build a pump station to send sewage to Charlotte-Mecklenburg utilities.
In January, IB Development turned over to authorities a series of e-mails between the company's Ashley Campbell and Irene Broaddus, a member of the county's water and sewer advisory board.
In the e-mails, Broaddus offered to lobby county commissioners for approval in exchange for a fee of up to $37,500. Broaddus also said she would recuse herself from any decisions before her board.
Broaddus says she later testified before a federal grand jury in Charlotte. Questions centered on her involvement with The Woods.
Broaddus said she “was not called as a target, I was just called as a witness.”
Union County's attorney has said some county commissioners are being investigated by the FBI. Federal investigators won't comment.
After Union County turned down the pump station in March, IB Development – also known as Infinity Partners – went to the Town of Weddington.
The developer retained engineering firm McKim & Creed to design a privately run, self-contained treatment plant and delivery system.
The developer has received permits from the N.C. Division of Water Quality, said Dianne Chase, spokeswoman for the developers.
In May, the Weddington Planning Board, which offers recommendations to town council, voted against the plant, 6-0.