The I-40 interchange at Exit 24 holds potential for commercial development, but without sewer to the area, that development has been stymied, according to commissioners.
“There are several tracts of land at the interstate that if you had water and sewer could see some development, and that would be jobs,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley said.
Although fast food joints are the most common type of development seen at interstate interchanges — hardly a high-wage sector — commissioners voted to back the N.C. 209 sewer line over two other projects that were also vying for the county’s endorsement in the same round of grant funding.
“If you have good sewer and water it does help the potential of economic development,” said Commissioner Mike Sorrells.
A grant for $2.4 million for the sewer line is being submitted to the Golden Leaf Foundation, a statewide fund earmarked for rural economic development. Along with the county’s $300,000 match, the Junaluska Sanitary District would put in $300,000 — to cover the estimated total project cost of $3 million.
The sewer line would be built and operated by the Junaluska Sanitary District, a water and sewer entity serving the Junaluska and Iron Duff areas.
The sanitary district needs both the county’s monetary and symbolic support to have a shot at the grant.
Two other entities in the county were hoping to apply for grants from the Golden Leaf Foundation as well, and had also asked county commissioners for their endorsement.
Commissioners only endorsed the N.C. 209 project, however, claiming it had the better chance.
The Exit 24 interchange is currently home to two gas stations, a Subway and the Haywood Café diner. They are functioning on septic systems with special discharge permits, but their systems are aging and stretching capacity.
The grant application will make a case that the viability of the existing businesses could be at risk in the future without sewer lines to support them.
“They have a rural business where they can’t expand and they could be in jeopardy if they can’t come up with the cash to fix the situation,” County Manager Ira Dove said.
The other two projects the county chose not to endorse were:
• A water and sewer line expansion by the town of Canton around Exit 31 off I-40, including to a 15-acre graded site in the county’s Beaverdam industrial site.
• An advanced machining incubator outfitted by Haywood Community College to train the manufacturing workforce and give start-up industries access to specialized equipment.
The county was only elligible to apply for up to $2.5 million in funding from the Golden Leaf Foundation grant cycle, forcing it to chose among the projects.
Jason Burrell, the economic development director for the town of Canton, said he believes the water and sewer line expansion to two large tracts of developable land along I-40 in Canton — including one in the county’s industrial park — would have obvious economic potential.
“Obviously, we feel our submitted project not only had great merit as it relates to the extension of water and sewer infrastructure to two areas for potential growth within Canton but also would have been a very legitimate and marketable resource to retail/commercial/industrial companies in the future,” Burrell said.
Sewer lines are often seen as a harbinger of development. When the county proposed running sewer lines in Bethel a decade ago, many in the community protested on the grounds it would bring unwanted development and destroy the rural character. The county conducted a survey of residents and dropped the plan in light of opposition.
Sewer lines don’t always bring the development that’s anticipated, however. Commercial development has yet to materialize along Jonathan Creek following the extension of sewer lines there years ago.
Water lines already run out N.C. 209 as far as the interstate.