Waynesville sewage plant reconstruction price continues to rise

June 22 – Waynesville leaders are awaiting news this month on a grant that will hopefully ease the sticker shock for rebuilding the outdated sewer plant.

The city has been scrambling to fill a nearly $9 million funding shortfall after construction bids came in way higher than expected last December. The price rose from a projected $19.5 million to $28 million amid soaring construction and material costs. The loan that the city had obtained was no longer sufficient to cover it.

So the city launched a three-pronged approach to solving the dilemma: a cost-cutting overhaul, increasing the city’s loan amount, and applying for a state grant.

In the meantime, however, the cost has increased further. The original offer has expired and the new price is $1.5 million more than six months ago.

“While this is not good news, it was not unexpected,” said Waynesville City Manager Rob Hites. “The increase in concrete and steel has increased significantly since December.”

Meanwhile, the city is under a de facto moratorium on development until reconstruction is complete, likely in 2.5 years. Due to the plant’s poor performance and repeated environmental violations, the state imposed a cap on new throughput at the sewer plant.

The city has now hit that ceiling following a wave of large-scale housing developments that have worked their way through to city zoning approval over the past year – using allocated capacity. .

The city expects to hear any day now on the fate of its request for a $15 million grant to help defray the cost of reconstruction. The state has allocated some federal COVID relief money for water and sewer infrastructure projects by local governments, but the majority has been earmarked for so-called distressed communities. Waynesville was not initially on the list, but successfully lobbied to be considered “distressed” – making the path to the grant possible.

Hedging its bets against the grant, the city is also seeking state approval to increase its loan amount by $5 million.

The loan itself would not cover the lack of funding, however. So the city also worked with engineers to come up with a Plan B design that wouldn’t cost as much. State environmental regulators don’t like the Plan B design as much and initially refused to accept it, insisting the city had to go with a version it couldn’t afford. Negotiations eventually resulted in a compromise.

“If we get the $15 million grant, we have to build the plant as it was originally designed,” Hites said. “If they don’t give us $15 million, we can’t afford [it]we can take the lower number.”

The grant remains a key part of the funding equation. Due to the latest cost increase, if the city does not get the grant, it will fail despite the dual approach of increasing its loan amount and adopting the plan B design.

“As you can see there are a lot of moving parts,” Hites said.

Richard L. Militello