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Firm Could Study Utility Merger Of Wrightsville Beach Into CFPUA’s System

By Johanna F. Still, posted Sep 13, 2022
Update: CFPUA approved the contract with HDR, Inc. Tuesday to study the Wrightsville Beach merger.

A study could likely soon be underway to analyze the feasibility of consolidating Wrightsville Beach’s utility system with Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s. 

CFPUA applied for and was awarded a $400,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Infrastructure to study the two utilities’ consolidation. 

The authority applied on behalf of Wrightsville Beach and maintains it has “adequate capacity and resources” to incorporate Wrightsville Beach’s water and sewer systems into its operations, according to bid documents.

Wednesday, the CFPUA board will consider awarding a $300,000 contract to HDR Inc. to study the consolidation. The state grant also includes funding for a rate and economic impact study, according to a CFPUA memo. 

CFPUA is still reviewing proposals garnered to undertake those studies. Though a previous agreement between the utilities covered matching funds to help cover the cost of the study, additional funds are no longer necessary. 

Wrightsville Beach has been supplementing its own water supply with water from CFPUA since 2019, following GenX contamination in a town well first discovered in 2017. Well No. 11, located on Allens Lane near Harris Teeter in Wilmington, according to 2017 Lumina News reporting, was taken out of service in 2019 and remains offline. 

Town manager Tim Owens said the well previously supplied about 20% of the town’s water supply. Officials believed the town’s well – which sources water from the Peedee Aquifer – was contaminated by CFPUA’s nearby Aquifer Storage and Recovery well (where the authority pumps treated water from the Cape Fear River into the aquifer for storage). 

Because of this, the town was offered treated water from CFPUA at a steep wholesale discount in 2019: $0.65 per 1,000 gallons. But this spring, CFPUA raised the rate to its typical wholesale fee, at $3.48 per 1,000 gallons, when the two utilities negotiated a new five-year interlocal agreement. 

Chloride levels in multiple town wells prompted Wrightsville Beach to seek even more water from CFPUA, according to Port City Daily

During this year’s contract negotiation, the town upped its maximum CFPUA water use from 45 million gallons a year to 150. So far this year, CFPUA has supplied the town with 62 million gallons, according to a utility spokesperson. 

Owens said the town had to raise residential water rates by 25% to cover the wholesale cost increase, “but it does not fully cover the purchase of water from CFPUA.” 

CFPUA currently treats the town’s wastewater. Wrightsville Beach serves 2,650 people year-round, the town reported to the state last year, and a seasonal population of about 25,000.

Any consolidation between the two utilities would require the approval of each governing board, plus the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and Wilmington City Council, according to bid documents. 

CFPUA itself was formed as the result of a merger in 2008 between Wilmington and New Hanover County. "A lot of valuable lessons were learned during that process, which can be applied to the merger study with the Town of Wrightsville Beach," the utility spokesperson said. "The consultant that we have retained to conduct the study also has experience with these types of public utility mergers."
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