Construction begins on $50 million water treatment plant

Published 3:25 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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By Jeanna Baxter White

Word Master Media Group

COOLEEMEE – Last week, Davie County and the Towns of Mocksville, Cooleemee, and Bermuda Run broke ground on the most significant collaboration yet: a $50 million water treatment plant to serve residents of the towns and county.

Davie County owns and operates the Cooleemee Water Treatment Plant (WTP) with an intake on the South Yadkin River.

The Town of Mocksville owns the Hugh A. Lagle WTP with an intake on Hunting Creek.

Both water treatment facilities are at the end of their useful life, costing more to maintain than to replace, officials said. This new wplant in Cooleemee, along with the county’s Sparks Road WTP, will serve the county. Mocksville will no longer produce its own water but will become a customer of the county.

After six years of planning and preparation, Johnny Lambert, Davie County’s public utilities director, is thrilled that construction is finally ready to begin.

“What an exciting day for Davie County. I’m ready for this project to start,” said Lambert during the March 21 groundbreaking ceremony attended by county and municipal officials, community leaders, and congressional representatives.

“125 years ago, Erwin Mills constructed the first phases of Cooleemee with a textile plant and constructed a dam across the Yadkin River for water and power. Today, we will build a $50 million state-of-the-art water treatment facility in the same area that will serve Davie County, Mocksville, Cooleemee, and Bermuda Run. This new facility should be completed in the next 24 months. It will become an essential part of our system to bring safe, reliable, and economical drinking water to customers throughout Davie County and meet our water needs well into the future.”

He thanked the county commissioners, town boards and managers, the public utility staff, engineer John Grey, design engineers, and contractor Jimmy R. Lynch & Sons, saying: “I’m incredibly grateful for the time everyone has spent over the past three years to get to this point.

“Thanks to all of the utility employee’s creative and innovative thinking that made this possible. Thank you for all the hard work and time you have invested in this project.”

He thanked state and U.S. representatives and local economic development officials.

Mark Jones, chair of the Davie County Board of Commissioners, and Mocksville Mayor Will Marklin highlighted the teamwork between the counties and town.

“Things don’t happen overnight, but they do happen when you sit down together, talk about it, compromise, and hear people’s ideas. This project is a culmination of that,” said Jones.

Marklin added: “Over the years, I’ve met with other mayors and heard how their municipalities don’t talk to the county. That’s not Davie County, and that’s not Mocksville. I’m glad that Cooleemee, Mocksville, and Bermuda Run are working together with the county to make things happen. Collaboration and working together is what it’s all about.”

Cooleemee Mayor Jessica Almond thanked everyone for keeping the new water treatment plant in Cooleemee.  “We look forward to continuing to work with the county and towns to get this plant up and running and for the good that will come with that.”

Kyle Bridges, state director for U.S. Sen. Tedd Budd; Stephanie Blair, regional representative for U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis; and Cindy Thompson, field representative for U.S. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, congratulated Davie County on the project and offered their offices’ continued support.

History of the Project

In November 2018, the county and Mocksville commissioned Hazen and Sawyer to develop a long-range water strategy.

“Working with the county to ensure our citizens have a clean, safe water supply for the next generation was our primary concern in moving toward regionalization,” said Marklin. “The Hugh Lagle Water Plant has served the citizens and businesses of Mocksville for nearly 80 years but has come to the end of its useful life. Between the need for an upgraded water supply and the age of the existing facility, the town decided to partner with Davie County Utilities to construct a new water treatment plant on the South Yadkin. This plant will allow us to maintain the water quality our residents have come to expect and meet our water demands well into the future.

“Working together with the county will enable us both to save millions of dollars in added expenses that would be incurred if we were to build two separate facilities. It is great to live in a community where elected officials come together to solve issues important to our citizens.”

In September 2020, and the county commissioners and Mocksville Town Board approved a plan to build a 3.5 million gallons per day (mgd) Cooleemee WTP and expand the Sparks Road WTP to 4.5 mgd.

Construction of the larger plant in Cooleemee was to begin in 2021, but COVID-related supply chain and labor shortages delayed the timeline. The county also opted to wait to receive American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds. The old Cooleemee and Lagle water treatment plants will be decommissioned when the new plant goes online in 2025. The expansion of the Sparks Road plant is scheduled to begin in 2028 and be completed in 2030.

The project also includes the installation of 20,000 feet of 12-inch water lines from Cooleemee to the Lee Jeans water tank and the replacement of aging water lines in the Cooleemee area.

The total cost of the project is $50,898,599. Most of the funding comes from state and federal grants and loans. Davie County received an $18 million loan (with an interest rate capped at 0.10%) from the NC State Water Infrastructure Authority, which awards federal and state funding for water and wastewater infrastructure projects. The county was also awarded $13 million in grants.

• America Rescue Plan (ARPA) $8,400,000;

• State Reserve Principle Forgiveness $2,000,000;

• State Reserve Grant $1,123,807; and

• Economic Development Grant $1,587,000.

A rate increase for all customers will cover the debt service and rising operational costs.

According to Mocksville Town Manager Ken Gamble, for the past two years, the town has been using a rate structure calculated by a third party and split over 5 years so rates would not have to be increased dramatically when the plant opens.

Lambert said that county customers would see a 4.5% increase for the next two years, which would drop to 2.5% annually. “Due to the strong partnerships between the municipalities and the county, we are able to keep the rate increases for our customers under the national average of 5%.”

Lambert believes this project highlights the benefits of a regional utility system.

“Economies of scale, the splitting of costs over a larger number of people, benefits everyone. Our whole goal is to make essential services like water and sewer affordable for every homeowner or business.”

“This water treatment plant builds camaraderie between the county and the towns so that we are all truly working together toward the greatest public good,” said Gamble. “Everyone had to adopt the concept of sharing resources instead of the old mentality that every municipality needs to own its own entities and have total control over everything that it does. Having your own police department, having your own code enforcement, having your own planning department, having your own tax office. Instead of having all of those duplicate expenses, we can share the cost across organizations, which is a better model for public services. Cost sharing builds the best quality product at the least possible cost.”