Legal snag may delay Cary’s Jordan Lake projects

aspecht@newsobserver.comNovember 15, 2013 

— Cary’s efforts to improve water-treatment operations at Jordan Lake may be delayed because of what one state official has called a “bureaucratic flare-up” with federal regulators.

The town is working on two projects at Jordan Lake, which provides drinking water to Cary, Apex and Morrisville. Cary plans to expand its water treatment plant and, separately, install an aeration system within the next year.

The legal snag occurred earlier this year, when Cary applied for an easement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Tom Reeder, director of water resources for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The Corps told Cary that, as of 2008, it grants only easements to government bodies that own the water supply. Cary does not own the Jordan Lake water supply – the state does.

The Army Corps of Engineers is negotiating with the town and the state to allow Cary’s projects to move forward.

The Corps already has conducted an environmental assessment and given the aeration system a green light. That’s part of the reason Reeder and Cary staff are confident an agreement will be reached soon.

But Ann Johnson, a spokeswoman for the federal regulation agency, said the Corps has no estimate on when it may grant final approval to Cary’s projects.

“Coordination is ongoing and we are working as quickly as we can to resolve this,” Johnson said in an email. “(H)owever, we do not know the outcome at this time.”

The hangup comes in the wake of recently signed legislation that delays a Jordan Lake cleanup plan for three years.

The plan signed by former N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue in 2009 called for increasing wetlands, retention ponds and wooded buffers to absorb runoff.

But the plan’s estimated $2billion cost prompted the Republican-controlled legislature to delay it and seek cheaper alternatives.

Cary’s plan for a $2.7million aeration system predates the legislature’s decision, but also is intended to reduce algae and other harmful nutrients.

The aeration system would slowly mix oxygen-rich water from the surface of the lake with water at the bottom, which is prone to low oxygen levels and higher levels of dissolved iron and manganese.

Cary treats the issues with water-cleaning chemicals, but it is costly. Installing the aeration system will save Cary money because the town won’t have to use as many chemicals to treat the water, said Steve Brown, Cary’s director of Public Works.

Meanwhile, the water treatment expansion will boost Cary’s treatment capacity from 40million gallons a day to 56million gallons a day once it’s finished.

Expanding the water treatment plant is a $70million, two-year project, so the easement snag isn’t likely to change the completion date, said Jamie Revels, Cary’s director of Utilities.

But Cary can’t install an underwater intake pipe to the plant until the easement is granted, Revels said.

“It’s put us in a position where we’d have to stagger the construction schedule,” he said.

Waiting to install the pipe won’t cost additional money, he said.

Revels and other Cary staff members said they’re encouraged by the Corps’ enthusiasm for getting through what Brown called “legal housekeeping.”

“We’re not alarmed at all by the situation or the pace at which the work has happened,” Brown said.

“It’s been a good working relationship,” said Leila Goodwin, Cary’s water resources manager. “But it’s taking longer than we would prefer.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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