HAMLET — Sitting on 10 acres of lush lawn within hearing distance of the trucks whizzing by on the U.S. 74 Bypass and the birds twittering in the neighboring pines looms Hamlet’s next big expenditure: its wastewater-treatment plant.
Built 38 years ago with money from a bond issue carrying a 40-year repayment date, the plant and its three operators perform yoeman’s work, processing daily 500,000 to 700,000 gallons of sewerage that flows from Hamlet and Dobbins Heights through vitrified clay lines and brick manholes.
Two years away from being fully paid for, the plant has experienced only one significant upgrade in those 38 years — in 1993, when the city built its second of two clarifying structures. It did acquire a new multi thousand-dollar bar screen for its clarifying ponds earlier this year, after an old one broke.
“It’s where the magic happens,” City Manager Jonathan Blanton said jokingly Tuesday, during a tour of the secluded plant.
And it’s where the city will have to sink $17 million in capital outlay within the next five years, according to a 2017 asset-management plan by the Lumber River Council of Governments.
The plan, released midyear, suggested that Hamlet spend an estimated $167,100 to perform four tasks that would help it determine how to proceed:
1. Examine aging lift stations with an aim toward replacing or rehabilitating them.
2. Inspect ancient pipes and manholes with the same aim in mind.
3. Develop a long-range plan to pay for improvements.
4. Rework the rate structure the city charges customers.
The COG report said that “the majority of assets in both treatment and collection (of waste) have aged beyond their useful life period” and that the city had no plans on how to “maintain the system in a sustainable manner.”
The city also “struggle(s) to manage inflow and infiltration of groundwater into the sewer system,” the report said — especially “during periods of high rain.”
While health and safety procedures, and customer service met standards, the report said, that situation would not last.
During budget meetings this month, Blanton proposed a new rate scale for both water and sewer services, with an eye toward capturing grants to help update aging infrastructure. That was COG’s issue No. 4.
But Hamlet officials have said they want to do more than just rehab the old sewage-treatment plant. They want what Rockingham has:
A belt press. Just one. (Rockingham has two.)
“(A belt press) ‘dewaters’ sludge to the point where they can haul it to a landfill,” said plant superintendent Darrell Lowery, who moved over from Hamlet’s water-treatment plant four years ago.
For now, Hamlet’s the sludge that remains after treatment is loaded into a truck, which carries it seven miles to land the city owns. There, the driver — the plant’s fourth employee — sprays the sludge over the ground.
If the sludge were dried instead, it could be carted off to a landfill in Anson County every so often — not several times a day, as the sludge necessitates.
Hamlet also wants to double its treatment capacity to 2 million gallons per day, which would allow it to recruit more industry. Current capacity seldom hits 1 million gallons per day, but it has, on occasion — usually during intense rains.
Increasing capacity “would make the city more marketable,” Blanton said. “(Providing enough) water isn’t the problem. Treatment of the sewage is the problem.
“The belt press is probably going to be the next big addition out here, but that’s anywhere from a million (dollars) to a million seven.”
On April 10, council members considered the $8,254,725 draft budget Blanton submitted and then proposed cutting or putting on the back burner about $113,000 of that, still leaving about $100,000 to come from savings.
They won’t make up the deficit, but starting July 1, water and sewer fees will be assessed by usage, plus a base fee — a schedule intended to bring in more revenue and equalize the way customers pay for service.
The new base fee for water will be $18 and for sewer use, $13. Users will be charged per 1,000 gallons, with the fees rising as use rate climbs.
COG recommended charging $33 per month per 5,000 gallons, which it emphasized would meet state guidelines and generate capital but would “NOT (COG emphasis) take into account the backlogged capital needs of the wastewater system.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]