Public input sought on Chatham pipeline | Chatham County | Indy Week
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Public input sought on Chatham pipeline 

The Western Wake Partners cleared the latest hurdle last week toward building a new $327 million wastewater treatment plant (see "New Hill Community Association settles with Western Wake Partners"). Now the partners face Chatham County.

The partners—the towns of Cary, Apex, Morrisville and Research Triangle Park-South—reached a settlement agreement with the New Hill Community Association and will build the plant in the unincorporated town in Western Wake County.

But to complete the plant, the partners say they need to run an 8.1-mile underground pipeline from New Hill through private property in southeastern Chatham County and to the Cape Fear River. To do that, the partners, led by the Town of Cary, would lease easements on private property or, if no settlements can be reached with landowners, seize it using eminent domain.

The purpose of the pipeline is to carry treated water from the plant to the discharge point.

The pipeline will cross the properties belonging to two churches and 12 residents, plus a portion of acreage owned by Progress Energy.

"We built our dream home, and we plan to stay here for the rest of our lives," said Tony Brucato, who owns seven acres on Christian Chapel Church Road. His land is in the path of the proposed pipeline, although he does not want to sell any portion of his property. "I have no idea what part of my property would be rendered unusable, and because my parcel is small, it could run right through the middle and disrupt the home we've built."

Steve Brown, director of public works and utilities for the Town of Cary, explained that the partners would lease property to be used as easements for the pipeline. "Property owners can still do most of what they want to do with their land," Brown said.

Banking on acquiring the land they need, the partners have forecasted the pipeline will be built by April 2012. The N.C. Division of Water Quality has issued preliminary permits for the project, but pipeline opponents say the partners have not explored other options, including releasing the effluent to Harris Lake in Wake County or using state-owned right-of-ways along U.S. 1.

Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht told the Indy that many studies have been conducted that concluded discharging into the Cape Fear River "was the way to go."

"To change the direction at this point would cost millions of dollars," Weinbrecht said.

The facility would bring services to an estimated 370,000 businesses and residents in Western Wake, including some southeastern Chatham residents. Apex is at its sewer capacity, Weinbrecht said, and Cary "will be shortly."

Maj. Sam Cherry, who lives in Raleigh and owns property in Chatham County, said the partners are rushing the county into deciding on the issue. "Chatham County has not conducted one study on how the pipeline impacts our county," he said.

Last April, Cherry purchased 35 acres in Chatham County to start a tree farm and build a home. He says he was not informed of the sewage treatment plant or of the pipeline proposal at the time of the purchase.

Weinbrecht said the partners want the property owners and plant engineers to discuss concerns and issues about the pipeline. "[The engineers] will try to minimize taking the property," he said.

Brown said the partners would invoke the right of eminent domain only if the partners and a landowner could not reach an "amicable settlement." "That is our goal," Brown said. "We try to be fair."

Eminent domain cases would go to court for resolution.

Under normal circumstances, private negotiations could give affected landowners more bargaining power. Under eminent domain, property owners are rarely compensated for what their land could command on the open market. However, in the current economic climate, land prices are already depressed, which puts property owners at a disadvantage.

"All the partners have to do is pay a one-time fee to get that land through eminent domain—for a pipeline that will be beneath my property for the rest of my life. And they'll get that land at a steal because property values are so low right now," Cherry said.

Previous commissioners advised denying the partners' requests to run the pipeline through Chatham if the partners did not agree to "negotiate with county property owners without using the power of eminent domain."

"The community is adamant that they do not want this pipeline," said Chatham County Commissioner Sally Kost, who was also on the previous board. "We need to create a land-use plan with Cary before we even begin to approve a pipeline," she said.

Chatham County Commissioner Brian Bock, who was elected in November, said he has not taken a position about the pipeline.

"I see this as a property rights issue, and I feel that if these individuals want to work with the partners to negotiate selling their land for the line, then they should be able to do so," he said.

"If we force the partnership by saying an outright no, they will eventually get their way anyway," he added, "because the only thing standing in their way is us."

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