The Southport Board of Aldermen passed a resolution last Thursday to remove a site on Bethel Road as an option for the city’s new wastewater treatment plant.

The property is on the southern portion of more than 440 acres the city currently owns.

The aldermen’s action directs the project engineers, Hazen and Sawyer, to focus on building the plant on the northwest portion of the land, further away from family homes.

Residents who live on Bethel Road and the nearby Winding Creek subdivision have been pleading with city officials for several weeks to build the plant elsewhere, arguing their property values would decrease, that the site poses environmental risks, and it is nonideal to raise a family near a sewage plant.

“Some times we don’t think about how what we do affects our neighbors, not only in the City of Southport but throughout the county and in adjacent areas,” said Mayor Jerry Dove. “That’s why I have discussed with our aldermen and our city manager some options that we may have.”

Attendees at the meeting applauded the aldermen after the motion by Jim Powell passed unanimously.

The city aimed to construct the plant on the northwest part of the land in the first place, but has struggled to receive permission from nearby Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point.

To address another sewer-related concern, city manager Bruce Oakley announced the city is establishing a fundraising vehicle to assist citizens who are struggling to afford their utility bills after several rate hikes: there will soon be an option for residents to contribute an extra amount when paying their bills. That money will offset costs for neighbors in need.

At the August aldermen meeting, many senior citizens spoke up during public comment about having to cut corners on medication or groceries to afford the city’s utility rates.

The in-city residential customer base rate is $70.17 as of July, about $23 more than it was less than two years ago. The city had to up the cost to address long-term sewer needs.

Brunswick Family Assistance will administer the fund. Oakley said more information is to come.

Also at the meeting, alderman Karen Mosteller shared information about the sewer infrastructure.

In her statement, Mosteller explained Southport is working to correct groundwater infiltration issues and reduce the possibility of sewer spills, a concern she said many residents had contacted her about. The city is applying for $8 million in grants to replace pipes, manholes and four aging pump stations.

She explained older sewer lines downtown and on the west side of the city are vulnerable to groundwater infiltration during storms, especially hurricanes such as Florence.

As for spills, she said the public works director assured her the city was not experiencing any and if it were, the Department of Environmental Quality would “shut us down.”

In other sewer-related business, the aldermen appropriated $1 million from the water and sewer fund to pay a beginning amount to the engineers designing the wastewater treatment plant.

Zoning amendment

The board approved a zoning map amendment the planning board has been working on the past few months that changes 16 parcels, most with homes already on them, from the business district to single-family residential. The properties are located in between 11th and 8th streets, along the Lord and Caswell streets corridors.

Over the past few months, the planning board has been collecting feedback from the property owners and found those who responded were in unanimous favor.

Ambulance acquisitions

The aldermen authorized the purchase of two ambulances, a 2017 and 2019 model, from the Mint Hill Fire Department for $300,000.

Fire chief Charles Drew called it a “golden opportunity.” The city was slated to replace one of its vehicles in the FY 2020-21 budget.

The purchase will be made with fire fees within the city budget.

Atlantic Avenue parking

Mosteller requested Oakley proceed with establishing five parking spaces the board approved in 2016 at the Atlantic Avenue and Bay Street park.

The spots would have been built in the right of way next to the park; however, Mosteller said it was “tradition” to allow property owners to use the right of way while building on a nonconforming lot. Now that the adjacent house is complete, she wished to move forward with the project.

Oakley said he would look into it but had some safety concerns since the parking lot would back into an intersection.

“Parallel parking there would make more sense to me,” he added.

Also at the meeting, Oakley said the city may begin live streaming meetings. At recent events, including this aldermen meeting, the rooms have reached capacity and people have been turned away or resorted to watching through the windows from outside.

The aldermen passed a proclamation to declare this Nov. 2 the Southport 10th Anniversary Wooden Boat Show Day. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Old Yacht Basin.

In addition, a resolution for Breast Cancer Awareness was passed. Southport firefighters are donning pink shirts throughout October to promote prevention and support those battling the disease.

A budget amendment for carryover purchase orders was approved. The funds were $80,702 to the general fund, $33,425 to the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Powell Bill fund, and $6,200 to the water and sewer fund.