There will be no new development in Pittsboro until the town can provide adequate sewer service to new homes and businesses: That was the sentiment last week among the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners, which heard evidence from the town planner and manager supporting the extension of the town's development moratorium through 2011. The moratorium, the town's second in 10 years, was enacted in October 2007 and expires this month. The commissioners will vote on whether to extend the moratorium on Oct. 12.
The moratorium has affected Pittsboro's population increase—6.6 percent since 2000, compared to Chatham County's, which has skyrocketed 28 percent. Yet the town's sewer and water capacity still lags behind its modest growth.
Pittsboro's archaic wastewater treatment plant, built in 1961, has a state permit that allows it to treat as much as 750,000 gallons a day, but realistically it can handle no more than 60 percent of that. According to Pittsboro's Mayor Randolph Voller, the plant's load is about 400,000 gallons a day.
Pittsboro Town Manager William Terry said that 30 years ago, a permit allowing 750,000 gallons per day was not an unreasonable number, but "today's regulations and standards significantly changed that original engineering number."
Terry said the plant is easily overwhelmed at the 400,000-gallon threshold. "If we have any storms or torrential rain, we have a wash-through effect."
A wash-through effect occurs when water passes through the plant and bypasses the treatment process. "It doesn't stay in the plant long enough to be treated," said Terry, "and as a result, the water goes cloudy and might have more bacteria in it, and we violate our water safety."
According to Pittsboro Town Planner David Monroe, the town adopted its first moratorium in 1999 because of problems with water and wastewater treatment capacity. In 2001, the town adopted an ordinance that allowed developers to pay a fee and reserve sewer capacity. But according to Monroe, the funds allowed the town to repair the water plant but provided only a temporary fix. In 2004, different development restrictions were implemented, this time without allowing developers to buy capacity.
With $2.6 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, the wastewater treatment plant is scheduled for renovations; the town plans to build a new 3.2-million-gallon water and sewer plant in 2012.
In the meantime, Pittsboro officials want to tide over the town by building a 500,000-gallon reserve tank—also known as an equalization basin—to prevent the wash-through effect. The tank can hold wastewater during peak flow and enable the plant to slowly treat it after a storm.
State officials must approve and permit the tank. Construction could take anywhere from nine months to a year.
The moratorium reminds town residents of the limits of Pittsboro's wastewater treatment plant, and ultimately, how water and sewer resources are curbing growth and development.
"If we had continued building," said Terry, "any rain would have been a problem, and it could have been a dangerous situation."