Southern Shores community protests doubled sewer bill

Published 7:35 am Monday, April 1, 2024

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Almost two dozen residents from Southern Shores Landing attended a hearing with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to protest a monthly sewage rate increase from $90 to $180.

The community, which is serviced by the Ginguite Woods wastewater system, has 38 single family homes. The homeowners’ association president Wayne Avery said that 30 of these homes have only one or two people living in them, and many of these are senior citizens living on a fixed income.

The doubled fee comes as a surprise to Southern Shores Landing residents, who complain that their sewage service has been poor for years.

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The wastewater treatment facility is owned by Saga Construction and Development under the affiliate entity named GWWTP, LLC – not to be confused with the similar acronym, GWWRA.

The wastewater was originally managed by Ginguite Woods Water Reclamation Association Inc. (GWWRA) in 2003. In 2009 the Utilities Commission appointed Enviro-Tech as emergency operator of the system because, according to a March 11 testimony given by Robert Howsare of GWWTP, LLC before the NC Utilities Commission, “there was an imminent danger of losing sewer service due to the lack of a competent utility company and the lack of money to pay current and outstanding bills, and to pay for upgrades to the system, justifying the appointment of an emergency operator in accordance with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 62-116(b).”

It was at this time in 2009 the Commission determined an interim rate of $90 per month. Several years later, Paragon Utilities acquired a portion of the tract of land, which was later purchased by GWWTP in 2017. The Utilities Commission was not notified nor did they give approval of this change of ownership or control of the wastewater system.

Enviro-Tech continued to serve as emergency operators of the system until 2021, when GWWTP states it fully compensated the company with a payment of $100,000 plus the flat sewage rates.

Atlantic OBX currently services Ginguite Woods wastewater system, though the Commission named GWWTP as the emergency operator on November 1, 2023 in Docket No W-1139. It was in that docket that the Commission also approved the provisional rate increase to $180 per month.

GWWTP claims that it has put in $400,000 for capital upgrades into the system, and plans to make an additional $600,000 worth of improvements. These improvements will lead to a further rate increase estimated at $232 per month. Saga plans to link a new housing development to the Ginguite Woods wastewater system.

Residents of the subdivision strongly disagree with the claim that GWWTP has invested that much money into the system, stating that the system until recently was poorly maintained, often reeking of sewage smell.

Almost two dozen people attended the Utilities Commission hearing at the Dare County Courthouse on March 18 to protest the rate increase, claiming that Saga is only concerned about maintaining the system now that they have new development in the works.

“The applicant has had the opportunity to make repairs,” said Matthew Huband in his testimony, which will be included in the record that the Commission will consider when deciding whether or not to approve the rates. “They’re looking for our community to foot the bill. I find it very unfair.”

Residents claim they have never used even close to the allowable water usage due to the small household size of the majority of homes.

“There has to be some kind of accountability,” Huband continued, “instead of putting the burden on us residents to foot the bill for repairs … Raw sewage. That’s what we smelled for four years until they replaced the tank.”

Susan Johnson, a 10-year resident of the community, said the smell was so bad in the summer that she didn’t even walk her dog near the system. “How do you put $400,000 in something and it’s still out of compliance?” she asked. “That money just vanished. That’s very concerning. We’ve never been told the full truth. We’ve had to dig it out.”

Three commissioners from the Utilities Commission have a scheduled meeting to discuss the case on Tuesday, May 7 in Raleigh. The meeting will be livestreamed on YouTube.