The decision for Southport to build its own wastewater treatment plant has resulted in a swirl of rumors, upset over rate hikes and unease about its location, but city officials say the act is necessary for the community’s long-term needs.

Southport is currently 30% through the design phase of a new wastewater treatment plant that should suffice the city for decades.Currently, the city is leasing sewer capacity from Brunswick County but that agreement is nearing expiration.

In preparation, Southport made plans to finance a $26-million expansion of the county’s wastewater treatment plant to provide the city with 750,000 gallons per day for the next 20 years. But after some review, the city found that before the deal was up, it would need more volume than the expansion plan could provide.

If the city were to reach 80% of its capacity, the state would declare a moratorium on Southport that would cease permits until work began on some kind of wastewater treatment development. Another expansion would cost the city millions more and require additional rate increases.

“With the county (expansion plan), we would be in that situation sooner rather than later,” said city manager Bruce Oakley.

Southport terminated the agreement with the county in April to build its own plant instead. Both projects have been said to cost roughly the same amount, though there is yet to be a final estimate for the plant. That will depend on how much capacity it treats. Oakley said the county has been supportive and helpful throughout the process. The city is repaying approximately $1 million for design fees spent before the deal was canceled. That money is rolled into a North Carolina Clean Water Revolving Fund low-interest loan Southport received to construct its plant.

“The state representatives of the fund felt it showed we did thorough due-diligence in making our decisions,” Oakley said. “It helped us realize that we were going to exceed the 750,000 gallons per day before the 20-year term of the county agreement would expire and we would likely have to pay for another expansion.”

The plant will probably be built on Bethel Road, on approximately 10 of 400 acres of land the city already owns. The city would prefer to have the plant on land they own on Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point’s (MOTSU) service road, but MOTSU is against it.

“Unless the army comes back and says you can do it up here, it’s going to go on Bethel Road,” said Oakley.

Some homeowners who live across from the location, which is not in city limits, have expressed concerns.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make it fit and be respectful to the neighbors,” Oakley said.

Any structures on it will “likely” be at least 50 feet from the right of way of the street, Oakley said. Berms, trees and other landscaping should keep the plant hidden from the road and adjacent properties. There will also be odor control.

Bids for construction will go up in March or April 2020. The plant is scheduled to be operational in 2022.

Over the past three years, there have been rate increases to pay for future debt on the project. On July 1, the sewer base rate increased by 35% and usage above 3,000 gallons went up 5%. Next year, rates will continue going up incrementally.

The city anticipates it will be able to hold rates steady, or possibly reduce costs, once the plant is operating. Plus, the city is applying for more than $8 million in grants to replace old sewer lines and lift stations, and those upgrades should improve the efficiency of the system therefore alleviating costs.

At the aldermen meeting in August, residents expressed concerns about not being able to afford their bills after the increase hit in July. Oakley is in the midst of discussions with community partners regarding the creation of a fundraising vehicle that would address the issue.

A public information session in the coming weeks should clear up some of the confusion and concerns among Southport residents and homeowners near Bethel Road. A date is to be announced.