Town Leaders to take new approach toward replacing the Community's Aging Underwater Sewer System

Although plans to build a 20- mile sewer interconnect pipeline to Spindale appeared promising, the need to immediately address the chronic infiltration of lake water into the sewage collection system, and the proposed rates that Lake Lure would have had to pay for services, prompted Town Council to re-assess the project.

Known as the Greenline, the pipeline would have included intermediate pump stations that move wastewater to Spindale's treatment plant.

Several circumstances have changed since the original project was first conceived. As a result of those changing circumstances, including a recent state inspection that has now deemed the entire sewer system "out of compliance,” Town Council recently voted to shelve the Greenline plans and instead pursue what is known as a Low Pressure Sewer System to address the infiltration problems.

The 30-year zero interest loan for $12.5 million dollars, previously approved to the Town for the Greenline Interconnect, can be used for the new Low Pressure Sewer System around the lake, said Town Manager Ron Nalley.

Like the existing gravity sewer collection system, a low pressure sewer system would convey wastewater from customers’ properties to the wastewater treatment facility. Unlike a gravity connection, low-pressure systems use small grinder-pump stations located at each property to move wastewater to/through the transmission system. Low pressure sewage collection systems are typically installed in places where difficult terrain, such as exist in Lake Lure, render gravity sewers cost-prohibitive and impractical.  

While the Town is still working on the details surrounding design and engineering of Lake Lure's new system, the project will move along quickly in accordance with a mandated compliance forthcoming from the State of North Carolina.

This project will also include the construction of a new sewer treatment plant or require the complete rehabilitation of the Town’s existing plant. 

Over a period of years and phases, existing customers will be transferred over to the new low-pressure collection system. Eventually, the current gravity collection system will be taken out of service. The Town will likely plug and abandon the existing gravity pipelines and remove the existing manholes and exposed pipes along the shoreline. No one will be able to tap into the old sewer lines.

As far as whether future property owners will be required to tie into the new system, any proposed or mandated changes to the current sewer ordinance will involve policy decisions that will need to be vetted with the Utility Advisory Board and then Town Council.  As such, no changes have been yet evaluated or determined.

The existing sewer ordinance states:

All Improved property within the town limits with a structure that generates wastewater, and such structure is located within 200 feet of a town owned sewer line, shall be connected therewith, and the property owner shall be charged the prescribed connection fee for all such connections. Such connection shall be made in accordance with the provisions of this section within 90 days after the date of official notice to connect.”

Additional factors that led to a change in direction regarding Lake Lure's Sewer System

An aerial view of the Lake Lure Dam. These gates serve to manage the lake level year round.  For many years, the Town of Lake Lure has wrestled with the complex and expensive issues surrounding our aging and increasingly ineffective wastewater collection and treatment system.

Past and present administrations have weighed all of the various options against an ever-tightening list of requirements from the State of North Carolina for the safe treatment of wastewater.  The issues are complex and extend back over two decades.

Throughout that time, the Town has struggled to operate its wastewater treatment plant in compliance with state regulations. Given the base of less than a thousand customers, this has been a costly challenge for many years.

While the Town continuously struggles to do its best to operate the existing plant in a safe and responsible manner, it faces mounting challenges and continues to more frequently be in violation of its discharge permit into the Broad River. As such, the State of North Carolina expects immediate action by the Town regarding a long-term solution. 

Following the realization that the rates announced by Spindale would be too cost prohibitive for Lake Lure's customers, additional factors caused the Town to make this decision:

1.      Continuous infiltration flows to the wastewater treatment collection and treatment system have risen

2.      Various breaches to pipes and manholes in the lake have caused excessive spikes to the flows and expensive emergency repairs. The last such incident required the Town to re-lower the lake while it was being refilled from the winter drawdown.

3.      The original scope of the Greenline project had expanded, and construction cost of the project itself had increased. 

All of these factors combined to create an affordability issue for the Town's sewer customers, which is ultimately why Town Council and the Utility Advisory Board took the time to re-evaluate alternatives to the Greenline.

In the bigger picture, the Greenline would not have solved the underlying issues with Lake Lure's system, that of excessive infiltration and inflow (I&I) of lake water.  The excessive infiltration and inflow is the primary reason why Lake Lure's system is considered non- compliant by the State of North Carolina.

The new proposal resolves this issue. "The Greenline is still a viable project, but should be considered when we have our own house in order," said Ron Nalley, Town Manager. "It can certainly be offered as a future solution to regionalization of sewer systems around the County."

Next Steps in the Process

Part of the loan requirement for building a new system will mean that the Town will need to move expeditiously on this project. Engineering and design will take about 10-12 months and the new system will be completed in 2-3 years. Town Council is expected to review this project again during its April and May meeting. The Utility Advisory Board will also stay actively engaged in the project.