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Some urge Chowan to find another discharge site for wastewater

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Greg Churchill, with Rivers and Associates Inc., discusses the Valhalla water treatment plant wastewater project at the Chowan County Public Safety Center in Edenton, Thursday, March 7.

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By Nicole Bowman-Layton
Chowan Herald

Monday, March 18, 2019

EDENTON — Some Chowan residents urged county officials at a recent forum to find another solution for getting the Valhalla water treatment plant back in compliance with state regulations.

About 50 citizens, including members of the Chowan Board of Commissioners, attended a special forum in Edenton on March 7 to discuss the county’s plans for the plant, which include discharging its wastewater into the Chowan River.

The current proposal — estimated to cost $4.5 million — would pipe wastewater about five miles from the Valhalla plant’s unlined waste pond on N.C. Highway 32, across the road then down to Rocky Hock Road and then to Rocky Hock Creek Road. From there, wastewater would be piped to Harris Landing Road, and from there about 2,000 feet into the Chowan River, where a 40-foot long, four-valve diffuser apparatus would be located.

Chowan County Manager Kevin Howard, who moderated the forum, noted that state officials have not yet approved a permit for the project.

Greg Churchill, of Rivers and Associates Inc., the engineering firm on the project, said the 8-inch pipe would be underground and use the roads’ rights-of-way whenever possible.

When asked why the county chose Harris Landing as the discharge site, Howard said it was one of three sites provided by a previous engineer. The others included an area near the U.S. Highway 17 bridge, and the area along Midway Drive, off N.C. Highway 94, about 8 miles from the Valhalla plant. Commissioners ultimately decided neither proposal was economically feasible, Howard said.

Several residents recommended taking the wastewater discharge pipe a few miles south of Harris Landing, to where Rocky Hock Creek flows into the Chowan River. They noted the river is slow moving, especially during droughts. They also described the river between Holiday Island and Harris Landing as “a dead zone.”

“I’d rather pay more (for the wastewater discharge project) than destroy our livelihood,” said Ricky Nixon, president at Murray L. Nixon Fishery.

Nixon was referring to the proposal to set up the discharge on Midway Drive for about $8.5 million, about double the cost of the proposed Harris Landing project.

Nixon noted his fishery is the only one still operating on the Chowan River. He urged commissioners to go back and find another solution.

“The Chowan River is not flowing” like the Roanoke River, Nixon said. “There’s not enough current. In two to three years, that area is going to be salt water.”

Anything that is added to the water that’s not natural will add to the river’s problems, he also noted.

Groundwater Management Associates, Inc., conducted a survey of the Chowan River for the Valhalla project. Jay Holley, a senior hydrogeologist with the Greenville-based company, presented the modeling that helped determine some of the details in the county’s permit application.

He noted that wildlife near the proposed discharge area is used to some brackish conditions — a mixture of salt and fresh water.

If the Valhalla water treatment plant operates at its full capacity — discharging 189,000 gallons per day of the 2 million gallons of potable drinking water a day it can produce — the wastewater will be diffused in the Chowan River at a level high enough to be within state standards. Currently, the plant operates at about a little less than half its full capacity.

Howard said the wastewater project is needed because the state has issued Chowan County a notice of violation. Noting the waste issue at the treatment plant has been ongoing for about 20 years, the county has already advised the state it plans to make improvements.

“The county elected to enter into a special order by consent, which is a contract basically with the Emergency Management Commission that says we’re going to make changes, and we’re going to make them in a certain time frame,” he said.

The county is in the process of getting a permit for the project, Howard said. By doing some of the work on the project early, the county hopes to move forward once the project is approved so it can meet the contract’s deadlines.

“I don’t want y’all to think this just happened in the last couple years,” Howard said. “We’ve been working on this for a while, trying to find a solution.”

Other residents at the forum noted the recent changes Pasquotank and Currituck counties have made to their water treatment plants. Churchill said plants in both counties are treating saltwater, which has a higher salt content than the discharge from Chowan County’s Valhalla plant will have, so their wastewater has to be diffused directly in salt water to meet the state standards.

Churchill also noted that Chowan’s permit will contain provisions and conditions limiting the amount of certain contaminants in the discharged wastewater.

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