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Canton reveals plan for waste water treatment plant

Canton reveals plan for waste water treatment plant

While there are still plenty of unknowns regarding Canton’s new waste water treatment plant, including where it will go and when groundbreaking will take place, a project budget ordinance passed by the town’s governing board on Nov. 9 eliminates one of them — how the massive appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly will be spent. 

“The process is ongoing,” said Mayor Zeb Smathers. “We’re glad we’ve got $38 million banked for this, but I see the timeline going as planned.”

On March 6, Pactiv Evergreen shocked Western North Carolina by announcing it would shutter its century-old paper mill in less than three months. Aside from all the other misery visited upon Canton as a result of the decision, one issue immediately became paramount.

Since the mid-1960s, the paper mill treated the town’s waste water, free of charge, alongside its own waste water. According to an agreement inked in the mid-1960s, if the mill were ever to cease operations, it would still continue to treat the town’s waste water for a period of two years.

That clock’s been ticking, as administrators in Canton and Haywood County have been working feverishly to find a solution.

The budget ordinance lays out funding streams as well as a specific budget for $43.2 million in spending projected to take place

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Through the General Assembly, President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act  is responsible for $38 million of that, almost four times the amount of Canton’s annual general fund budget. Another $4 million in funding comes from former President Donald Trump’s CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act. The Town of Canton itself will contribute an additional $312,200.

Construction of the plant itself will eat up the bulk of those funds, exactly $40 million, and there’s an additional $100,000 appropriated for planning.

A sewer system evaluation will be performed at a cost of $200,000, and then a $592,250 sewer improvement project will commence. That project has $96,750 for design, $92,750 for construction administration, $32,950 for surveying and $10,000 for bidding.

Several other budget items regarding testing, permitting and grant administration round out the remainder of the funding, including a whopping $125,000 for NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permitting.

Two other items, however, are of significant interest. The first is the project’s contingency budget. Major projects usually include such an appropriation, in case the unforeseen arises during construction. That could be anything from additional site prep costs to changes in the price of labor or materials.

A typical project will usually have between 5% an 10% set aside for such occasions, but Canton’s $42 million project lists only $57,000 — or about .013% of the total project cost — for the design phase of the project.

Spending on the project, however, is expected to take place over the next 5 to 7 years, meaning the governing board could amend the project budget at any time.

The other interesting item is the appropriation set aside for the purchase of land.

Since Pactiv’s closing announcement this past March, Smathers and other elected officials have met regularly in closed session to discuss available options related to the acquisition of a “Goldilocks” parcel that may not even be on the market at present. It can’t be too big, or too small, or too far outside town limits — it has to be just right.

The current site of Canton’s waste water treatment operations, located on Pactiv Evergreen’s 185-arce parcel, appears to be at least 17 acres in area.

The cost of land includes too many variables to try to estimate an average price per acre, but the $650,000 appropriated by the town might not go very far in a real estate market that’s surged to new highs, repeatedly, over the past several years.

Smathers said that the conversations happening around land acquisition are taking place through administration, and that several are being evaluated. He estimates warp-up of the acquisition phase in 6 to 8 months.

Alderman Ralph Hamlett, recently reelected to another four-year term, also said he feels the closed-session discussions about the real estate component of the project have been going well.

“I feel positive. I think as a board, we are showing mature stewardship,” Hamlett said. “We know this is a heavy lift. If you get it wrong, it would be a quintessential mistake for which there would be no undoing. It would be catastrophic. We want to make sure we make the right moves and that the decisions we make are in the long-term interests of Canton.”

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