Utility projects planned

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — A new wastewater system could be in the works for the Fairview community of Grayson County, while an extended water system could be coming near Fries.

Two meetings were held last week — one at the Fairview Ruritan Building Aug. 4, and the other in Fries Aug. 5 — to pass on information gathered by engineers on the possibilities of both systems.

The first plan involves placing a new wastewater system in Fairview, while the other would be a new water system in the Stevens Creek community, near Fries.

Grayson County Administrator Bill Ring said turnout was good at both locations and the same questions came up.

“People wanted to know if they had to hook up to either line if it goes by their house,” he said. “Right now, Grayson has no mandatory hook-up ordinance, so that answer would be no.”

Ring said the county has no plan at this time to pursue a mandatory hook-up ordinance or fee.

Those in Fries seemed more worried about whether the new water line would have fire hydrants. Ring said it would.

The two systems may be far-fetched at this time, and Ring said it is too early in the stages to know if either is a possibility.

“In the near future employees of the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission will be in both communities gathering information regarding the current status of residents’ water and sewage source,” said Ring.

Once that is complete, a more accurate number of potential customers can be found and the county will know where it stands on the systems.

Ring said questionnaires will be passed out to community members who would be in the service area to see if people are interested in hooking up or if they wish to maintain their private well and septic tanks.

One advantage to expanding the water system from the Town of Fries into the county would be that all users could potentially see a decrease in water rates.

Currently the town has the highest water rates in the Twin Counties, mainly because the customer count is so low.

Ring said Grayson would be the only actual customer added to the town’s clients, but would be purchasing all the water for re-sale to the new customers, thus being a large-scale purchaser.

The county has the same partnership with the City of Galax for its water system in Fairview.

Right now it’s too early to tell if either project will move to completion, Ring said. “Both projects are still in the planning stage.”

During a Grayson Supervisors’ meeting in February, Stevie Steele of Anderson & Associates presented the estimates to the board for both projects.

Steele showed a proposed wastewater system in Fairview that could connect 360 customers in the area. Cost is a concern, with each connection estimated to cost an average of $45,361.

The project could be done in phases. The first section would connect directly to Galax’s current system and serve just 10 potential customers, and cost $177,891 per connection. The majority of the customers live farther away. Two sections, including 260 potential customers, live closer to the North Carolina boarder.

“The first section has an enormous amount of infrastructure for a small amount of people,” Steele said during the meeting earlier this year.

But the connections cannot reach higher density areas without other areas being developed. The first two sections to go through would only provide the county the possibility of 15 connections before reaching the section with 160 customers.

Steele said funding agencies would be able to provide some money, but “the agencies want to see on paper guarantees that people will hook up [to the line].”

Even with a commitment from all potential customers, Grayson could still be looking at a large amount of money to borrow.

On average, a sewer bill of $20 a month would take 500 years to pay back the initial cost of the lines, Steele said.

Mount Rogers Planning District Commission Public Administration Specialist Brian Reed attended the same meeting and said the county would be required to have agreement from 90 percent of potential customers to be eligible for funding.

Chairman Mike Maynard clarified that a portion of the money would come from customers and grants, with the remaining balance to become county debt.

Reed said that was correct, but the county should try not to have debt and instead let the system pay for itself.

“You want the revenue from the rates to pay any debt the county has,” he said during the February meeting. “It may take 40 years to start seeing profits from the system, but as long as it is paying for itself, it’s ok.”

Steele added that once a potential list of hook-ups was compiled and funding was found, Grayson could determine what the average bill should be to break even.

The water system in Fries was divided into four different systems — Stevens Creek, Vaughan, Providence Phase I and Providence Phase II.

Stevens Creek has 319 potential customers and would cost an estimated $7,752 per connection. Vaughan — which is in Carroll — has 217 connections, with an estimated average of cost $6,400 per connection.

Providence Phase I has 207 potential connections with an estimated cost of $7,560 each and Phase II gets a little more pricey at 70 potential connections and an estimated cost of $16,615 for each.

Steele said the reason for the increase is that the Phase II area is less densely populated.

Providence Supervisor Joe Vaughan said during the February meeting he has heard a lot of positive and negative reactions about the potential water and wastewater systems.

“A lot of people want it, and a lot don’t,” he said.

Once the MRPDC conducts the surveys of the area and the information is compiled, the board will decide whether to move forward with either project.