Gaston & Catawba

3 Gaston towns looking at combined sewer treatment

Three small towns in eastern Gaston County are looking at a joint venture for treating wastewater that could save taxpayers money and help the environment.

Leaders in Cramerton, Lowell and McAdenville will meet Tuesday to hear details of a $150,000 feasibility study for a regional approach to a service all the municipalities are providing. Gaston County commissioners have been invited, and the meeting is open to the public.

Instead of each town owning separate sewer plants, all of which discharge into the South Fork River, the operations would be combined at Cramerton's plant.

The facility off Eagle Road recently had $5.3 million in upgrades and can treat up to 4 million gallons of wastewater daily. Currently, Cramerton treats only about 600,000 gallons a day.

According to the study, a regional wastewater treatment plant would not only save money and meet capacity needs for the next 25 years, but also would allow shutting down two sewer discharges into the South Fork River.

The estimated cost of the project is $4.3 million for construction of pipeline between the systems and pump stations. The study by Southern Pines-based Hobbs, Upchurch & Associates said grants could pay for 80 percent of the total cost.

“It made a lot of sense to talk to the other towns about this,” said Cramerton Town Manager Michael Peoples. “We're close together and in the same drainage basin. We can save money on the economy of scale.”

The study was funded by a $120,000 grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and $30,000 in matching funds from the towns. Cramerton paid $15,000, Lowell $10,000 and McAdenville $5,000.

The opportunity for consolidating goes back several years. Cramerton's old wastewater treatment plant reached capacity, and the town bought a treatment facility formerly owned by Cramerton Automotive, an industry that's no longer around. To meet tougher state and federal treatment requirements, the town began a major upgrade on the plant.

In 2006, while the work was still in progress, the town's largest wastewater customer, Lakewood Dyed Yarns, announced it was closing.

Work on the plant was completed last year and leaders in the three towns began talking about a regional sewer treatment approach.

Consolidation of services provided by local cities and towns has been under consideration for years.

Gaston County is about to complete the second phase of a study examining the combination of municipal water and sewer systems. It focuses on the governing structure and costs and should be out by September or October, said Gaston County Manager Jan Winters.

In general, he supported the wastewater treatment idea being studied by Cramerton, Lowell and McAdenville.

“It makes far more sense to build fewer and larger facilities than have a whole lot of smaller and less cost-effective facilities,” he said.

Lowell Mayor Judy Horne agreed.

“Any time you can combine resources and do a better job, I'm all for it,” she said.

The proposed regional system would include two pump stations, about 4.2 miles of sewer lines, one river crossing, a crossing under Interstate 85, a railroad crossing and decommissioning the Lowell and McAdenville wastewater plants. The study listed key benefits of a regional approach:

No worries about maintenance, upgrade and future capacity needs at the existing Lowell and McAdenville plants.

Spreading fixed treatment costs over a larger group of customers and reducing the overall regional cost to treat wastewater.

Treatment at the Cramerton plant allows for plant supervision by town employees.

Cramerton's excess treatment capacity enhances the ability for Lowell and McAdenville to meet future needs.

A regional facility is more attractive to grant agencies and regulators and makes it more eligible for grant funding.

McAdenville Town Administrator Gene McCombs had concerns about the cost of the proposed project, but said, “It's a concept worthy of consideration.”