The regional water plant improvement project continues to move forward, but so far, it’s more like a steady trickle than a blast from a firehose. Rep. David Price visited the water treatment plant last week and met with officials from the area to share that there likely will be $3.5 million in federal funds appropriated for the project, which has an estimated price tag of $66 million.
Henderson Mayor Eddie Ellington said Price toured the Flemingtown Road facility and spoke with the tri-county delegation about the project, which will double the daily treatment capacity when it’s completed.
The KLRWS serves Henderson, Oxford and Warren County; Henderson is the managing partner at 60 percent and the City of Oxford and Warren County each have a 20 percent stake.
Ellington told WIZS News Tuesday that the visit gave Price a chance to meet with mayors and managers to see first-hand how federal funding would be used.
“As the demand for water from our neighboring counties, new customers, as well as the growth we are experiencing, this is vital to our future,” Ellington said in an email. “I spoke with Rep. Price as he was leaving and he assured me he’s confident that this would make it through Congress for this fiscal year.”
Others on hand for the visit in addition to Ellington were KLRWS Chief Operator Steve Gupton, Henderson City Manager Terrell Blackmon, Oxford City Manager Alan Thornton, Warren County Manager Vincent Jones, Oxford Mayor Jackie Sergent and others, according to Ellington.
The city of Oxford is in Price’s district and he received a request for funding from city government officials; Warren County and Henderson are in G.K. Butterfield’s district and Henderson city officials requested funding on behalf of those entities. City Manager Blackmon said each congressional district was given the opportunity to submit the 10 best projects to be considered to receive federal funds in the 2022 Interior Appropriations Bill. This project represents a collaborative effort from both congressional districts, Blackmon said.
“This appropriation is only a small part of the total funding for the expansion project,” Blackmon said. The current funding commitment from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality SRF Program for the expansion project is more than $45 million, leaving a gap of about $20 million. The $3.5 million appropriation will assist in filling the funding gap for this project, he added.
Price issued a press statement in June about his efforts to fund projects in his home district. “Clean water is not a luxury – it’s fundamental to the health and safety of our communities, but our aging water infrastructure urgently needs funding,” Price stated. “I’m pleased that the House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee included these critical projects in their annual funding bill, bringing them one step closer to reality with the passage of the House bill in Subcommittee.”
In addition to making repairs and forming expansion plans, the overall price tag is heftier because costs simply have gone up. The funding gap is preventing the project from getting underway.
One option would be to raise water rates slightly to cover the increased project cost.
In January 2021, the Henderson City Council approved a revised project cost of $57 million for upgrades to the regional water system, which serves 15 municipalities in three counties. At that time, Council member Garry Daeke, who also serves as the KLWRS advisory board chair, told WIZS that council’s action would allow the project to continue, but if additional grants or other funding streams couldn’t be secured, it could mean a rise in water rates.
Since talk of the project first began several years ago, there have been several challenges to overcome, including purchase of a new pump and rising construction costs. The original price was estimated at close to $40 million, but by the fall of 2020, the cost had risen considerably.