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Thoughts on SGWASA from an insider’s perspective

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Recent discussions concerning the South Granville Water & Sewer Authority and poor water quality have many feeling frustrated. Having been one of those at the table when SGWASA was created, my own frustration stems from a belief that the public has never received full, unbiased insight about why the Authority was created in the first place. My opinions are mine alone and are not meant to represent those of anyone else.

The state of N.C. created SGWASA to solve a problem for Granville County. In early 1999, the county had run out of sewer treatment capacity in the then state-owned wastewater treatment plant in Butner. This brought economic development in southern Granville County to a halt.

At that same time, Creedmoor had unused sewer treatment capacity in the plant. Without asking, the county chose to bypass the city, going directly to the secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services, who ran Butner before incorporation, to request that he give them Creedmoor’s capacity. To his credit, he said no. I am certain the city would have shared resources had the county asked for help.

Long story short, Creedmoor officials learned about the request. It was shortly thereafter that an idea was floated to create a regional authority to manage southern Granville’s water and sewer resources. While the city supported a regional approach, it also knew the underlying motivation was to take control of resources regardless of to whom they belonged.

In clearer terms, SGWASA was created to manage water resources and wastewater treatment capacity to control economic development in southern Granville County. While SGWASA had to follow federal and state water quality rules, it was not created with making clean water or treat sewage as its primary purpose.

After many years of deferred maintenance, first by the state and now SGWASA, we now face $50-plus million in improvement needs. The financial burden will likely be borne mostly by ratepayers.

Federal and state expenditures for water and wastewater utilities grew consistently until 2010, but has been in steady decline ever since. As a result, local authorities are bearing most of the burden for water infrastructure maintenance.

In 2009 Creedmoor was able to put together $9.5 million in federal, state and local funding to address to upgrade its water and sewer infrastructure. Creedmoor, too, had kicked the can down the road for many years deferring work that needed to be done. We took action.

Today I encourage citizens to rather than listening to what’s being said, watch carefully what SGWASA officials are doing. I believe folks will then understand the debate is still not about water quality. It remains about economic development.

This brings me to my central issue. I believe people have a basic human right to clean water.

What I often see is a well-meaning governing body faced with the sobering reality of their significant infrastructure challenges, but have not had the technical or financial capacity to meet this basic need. I see evidence this is changing.

But also, I often take offense at the unfair and irresponsible portrayal of the SGWASA board and other elected officials. I know firsthand what it means to have individuals or groups distract citizens and inflame public opinion by creating a caricature of uncaring elected officials. Besides being inherently dishonest, this narrative does nothing to actually solve the pressing problems concerning our infrastructure needs.

In my view, SGWASA’s operational issues over clean drinking water may now have become a social issue that needs to be solved. Regardless of your political or business views, water and wastewater services are a critical aspect of public health and safety. All those served by SGWASA are entitled to receive quality services at an appropriate cost.

Some may disagree, but I believe SGWASA possesses the organizational structure to dig out of the mess we’re in.

Earlier this year Congress passed legislation to allow communities to have better control over infrastructure and environmental factors to meet the needs of their ratepayers — safe, reliable and more affordable clean drinking water.

Current information shows the SGWASA customer base breaks down this way — Butner, 32 percent; Creedmoor, 35 percent; Granville County, 26 percent and Stem, 6 percent. With this in mind, I’m calling on our leaders to take a more aggressive and nuanced approach.

I am hopeful that we can all put our collective shoulders to the wheel and help solve this crisis to improve the quality of life in our community.

Darryl Moss is a former mayor and commissioner of the city of Creedmoor.