Vance, Warren may get boost

Jan. 23, 2014 @ 09:13 PM

Federal funds may soon be available to give a boost to efforts to improve the water and wastewater infrastructure in Vance and Warren counties.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources recently released information on an amendment to the 2013 annual action plan for the Water Infrastructure Grant Program of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Program.

A total of $26 million was allocated for water infrastructure grants in 2013. The 2014 amount is expected to be about the same, according to Julie Cubeta, supervisor of the state and CDBG infrastructure grants program in the Division of Water Infrastructure at DENR.

The amendment to the water infrastructure grant program states that the funds will be used to correct water and wastewater infrastructure problems that pose a significant threat to the environment or the health of the population in counties that qualify.

“We are only able to fund projects in areas where at least 51 percent of the residents have low to moderate incomes,” Cubeta said. “I suspect Vance County and Warren County will be eligible to apply.”

Vance County Commissioner Tommy Hester said he received notice of the 2014 plan amendment. “I made sure Erris Dunston got a copy of it so they know it’s going to happen.”

Dunston, planning director for the city of Henderson, said it’s too early to make a definitive statement about what the city will do. “We’re still filtering through the information,” she said.

“We have a couple of projects that we have applications in for,” said Frank Frazier, Henderson’s assistant city manager of water resources.

They include a waterline on Beckford Drive and on U.S. 158 Business from Ruin Creek Road to Poplar Drive. Those applications were submitted in the 2013 cycle.

As for the 2014 round of grant funding, he said, “I’m not sure what we will have for that cycle.”

“We do have a couple of projects and a third possible project,” said Macon Robertson, director of public utilities for Warren County.

The county needs to add to its daily storage capacity, he said. That would be done in partnership with Norlina. A second potential project would replace the sewer force main between Norlina and Warrenton.

“Small rural counties are really strapped,” Robertson said.

Local businesses are closing and Robertson the revenue they generate is being lost.

The approximate time frame put forth in the plan amendment calls for a public comment period and a public hearing during January and an application deadline of April 1.

DENR and the N.C. Department of Commerce will host a series of workshops in February to provide guidance on the application process. The dates and locations of the workshop have not been announced.

“It’s very tentative,” Cubeta said. “I have a feeling the timeline and other parts of the plan may be changed after the public hearing. But we would like to be able to receive grant applications on April first.”

Assessments conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that North Carolina needs substantial improvements in both water system infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure. The amendment to the 2013 plan summarized the need: “Investing in water and wastewater infrastructure is important for health and safety and at the same time essential to the economic vitality of the community.”

Grants will be competitive and will be judged on three criteria:

• Benefit to low and moderate income persons.

• The severity of water and wastewater needs.

• Ability of the recipient to manage the system.

Other considerations in awarding grants will be geographical distribution, readiness of projects and local commitment as evidenced by matching funds or factors such as citizen participation.

The 2014 plan won’t be finalized for some time.

“It’s in its infancy,” Hester said. But local agencies are looking at their needs in order to be prepared.

 

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.