City News

Sewer plant plan gets public airing

The public finally got its say Thursday night on a proposed private sewer plant that developers want to build in Weddington.

About 150 people turned out for a five-hour public hearing, where 25 townspeople told council members what they thought. Most were against the plant that would use reclaimed water to irrigate lawns and common areas in The Woods, a proposed luxury subdivision.

“What are you going to do when one child gets hurt by (a virus that could be passed into the plant's treated water?) How are you going to live with yourselves?” John Giattino, a Weddington resident, asked the council.

A handful, including Jay Robinette, a local custom home builder and real estate agent, spoke in favor of allowing developers to build the sewer plant. He plans to build his own home in The Woods when it is approved and doesn't believe property values will be negatively impacted.

Thursday was the fifth night of public hearings, which began on Aug. 11. Many residents have attended week after week, carrying signs saying “No Sewer Plant.”

The proceedings follow a courtroom model, with attorneys representing both sides, the council serving as jury and speakers sworn in as witnesses. With Thursday's meeting, the town council finished hearing testimony and evidence. The council will begin deliberations in open session at 6 p.m. Sept. 8 at Weddington High School. All hearings were moved from the town hall to the high school to accommodate large crowds.

Despite instructions from the mayor that only factual testimony could be entered into the record, residents on both sides Thursday presented opinions, concerns and fears.

Attorneys on both sides logged objections to much of the testimony, but the council will ultimately decide what to deliberate on.

“Taken as a whole, there was some testimony that could be considered and some testimony that was purely opinion testimony,” said Anthony Fox, attorney for the town.

IB Development is seeking a conditional use permit from Weddington to install a Siemens Membrane Bioreactor sewer treatment plant in a building at the center of The Woods development, planned for 200-plus acres near N.C. 16 and N.C. 84, the heart of Weddington. Homes in the neighborhood would sell for between $1.2 million and $3 million.

Witnesses for the developer spent three nights of hearings explaining the safety and invisibility of the plant.

Representatives for The Friends of Weddington, a concerned group of nearby residents, presented experts who said that inadequate planning was done to determine what would happen in the event of a sewage spill.

Former Union County public works director Jon Dyer testified that the Mundy's Run basin, in which The Woods and many other neighborhoods sit, would likely never receive county sewer lines if the plant went in.

Those speaking against the plant said they did so for many reasons:

Many were concerned about bacteria, viruses and chemicals small enough to pass through the plant, ending up on lawns and possibly contaminating groundwater. Many nearby residents use well water.

“No data is available whether it affects people's health and the long-term results of the filtration system,” said Debbie Hanrahan, a member of The Friends of Weddington.

Other speakers admitted that while the technology looked to be state-of-the-art, they felt there was not enough planning for an emergency or disaster. With the recent Hurricane Fay dumping 28 inches of rain on some parts of Florida, they were concerned that ponds for the reclaimed water may overflow and a power outage or fire could create a spill. Some said it wasn't a matter of whether a spill would happen, but when.

“They are trying to transfer the risk of their profit to us,” said resident Robert Vaughn, about IB Development.

Most of the residents in the Mundy's Run basin use septic systems while they wait for county sewer lines to be installed. Many said they fear that if the private plant goes in, there will be no incentive for the county to run the lines. They also cited concerns that their property values could greatly decrease if the plant has obnoxious smells or noise.

The Woods was originally supposed to send sewage to Mecklenburg County via a pump station, but Union County commissioners earlier this year voted down a permit for the pump station, leaving IB Development looking for alternatives.

Those who spoke in favor of the sewer plant gave several reasons:

The Woods would add a large tax base to both the town and county. That would mean more money for schools, they argued.

Some residents who live nearby said they trust the technology to be safe and not noxious.

Some called into question whether the fight is really a confrontation between pro-growth and no-growth elements in the town.