'); } -->
City officials last week announced a $28.2 million expansion of its sewage treatment plant – a move that will prompt a slight increase in utility bills. Neighbors of the southeastern Wake plant are upset, saying they weren’t informed of the plan.
The project at the Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant should get under way later this year, the latest phase of Raleigh’s effort to prepare its utility system for future growth. The facility currently treats up to 60 million gallons of sewage a day; the expansion would increase the capacity to 75 million gallons a day.
The expansion was first planned five years ago, but Raleigh delayed the project as the economy slowed and fewer new homes were added to the sewer system. It’s now time for the extra capacity, project manager Aaron Brower said.
“We did see that we needed to start moving it along,” he said.
The city will fund the entire project with a loan from the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The loan carries an interest rate of about 2 percent, which is expected to save Raleigh about $500,000 a year in payments.
Still, the borrowing will increase the cost of utility services. Monthly sewer bills will go up about 2.6 percent – city officials estimate that comes out to 74 cents a month for the average household.
While this expansion should wrap up within two years, additional phases of growth are already planned for future years. Brower said that approach is more cost effective than doing the entire expansion at once. “If you spread them out, it helps with your payback with your loans that you borrow,” he said. “If you phase it and break it into smaller chunks, you get more competition on your bidding.”
‘Left out of the loop’
The utilities department held a public meeting on the project last week, but few attended. Neighbors of the plant said they were informed of the meeting just hours before it happened.
People who live along Mial Plantation Road near the plant are already upset with the city’s plans to resume spreading treated waste on nearby fields. The practice was halted years ago after nearby wells became contaminated; the city says the process has improved now and won’t affect groundwater.
Marda Debnam leads a community group called Black Anchor Community for Improvement, and she had asked city officials to inform neighbors about any developments at the plant.
“We all were furious that we were not properly informed about that public hearing,” Debnam said. “You don’t wait the day of and email these people.
“Since we were left out of the loop on Tuesday, which seemed intentional, how can any member of our group trust the new procedures, approaches, etc., that you have in store for us?”
Tim Woody, a division director at the utilities department, responded that the meeting was advertised in the newspaper and on the department’s website. He said it wasn’t a formal public hearing; that event was held years ago when the plan was first made.
“If it will help, I will gladly make arrangements to meet with you and this group and present this information again,” he wrote in an email to Debnam.
Brower said the expansion plans could actually lessen the plant’s negative effect on neighbors. They’ve complained for years of foul smells coming from the site. Devices called clarifiers, he said, are one source of odors, and the new ones will be covered and odor scrubbed.
“You should see a reduction in odors,” he said. “It certainly won’t be any worse.”
But Debnam said she’s skeptical of the claim. “Any expansion – even if it’s not a field beside you – depending on the direction of the wind, I’m sure you are going to smell it,” she said.