Mayor Joe Pat Hatem and City Manager Bruce Oakley

The Southport Board of Aldermen voted at a special meeting Monday night to pursue a wastewater agreement with Brunswick County and fund a 750,000-gallon expansion at the Shallotte Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In a unanimous three-part motion, the board instructed the city staff to work with the county on a contract.

City Manager Bruce Oakley said the county is currently drafting an agreement based on the original contract with some revisions. Once the city staff reviews it, it will be presented to the aldermen for approval.

With that said, plans to build a city-owned wastewater treatment plant are officially scrapped. The option to continue designing a city sewer plant was not considered during Monday’s meeting.

Rather, the purpose of the gathering was to decide between two options for the capacity of an expansion: 750,000 gallons for a rough estimate of $26 million; or 1 million gallons for a rough estimate of $34 million.

Southport previously signed a sewer service agreement with the county for 750,000 gallons per day, but terminated the contract in April after a third-party engineer projected the city would need more capacity within 20 years.

However, at the meeting, Brunswick County Public Utilities Director John Nichols gave a clearer idea of what the city could expect once it reaches capacity.

Nichols explained that Brunswick County does not begin designing expansions until an entire treatment plant reaches 80% capacity. There are also five interconnected plants in the system that could provide additional flow.

“You don’t have to go ahead and expand just because you are at your capacity,” Nichols said. “We look at the plant as a whole.”

He also said that Southport is the only municipality currently requesting additional flow and that’s why the city has to fund this expansion on its own. If the city needs more capacity in the coming years, it’s possible other partners in the system would also need an expansion at that point and would split the bill.

“If you needed additional flow in the next five or 10 years, I feel pretty confident the county would be right there as well and that would be a shared cost depending on the percentage of flow that each participant needed,” Nichols said.

With that information, the board concluded it shouldn’t overbuy. Alderman John Allen said he felt strongly about choosing 750,000 gallons per day; Alderman Lora Sharkey said she thought paying extra for 1 million gallons may be unwise; and Mayor Joe Pat Hatem said there was “room to grow” in the county system.

As part of the motion, the board requested two concepts be included in the contract. One of those is that the Southport sewer district is retained so the city may receive the benefits of adding customers.

Sharkey, who put forth the motion, told The State Port Pilot that Southport used to have a sewer district that covered the gap in the city boundary between Walmart and the Rivermist community. Back then, developers in that area could only request sewer services from the city and were required to annex the land to Southport to receive that service but now, without the sewer district in place, developments in that area may opt for the county’s services.

Sharkey said the city could miss out on tax revenue from those properties, yet the residers would still utilize the city’s resources.

Also in the agreement, the board is seeking a “fair cost-sharing formula” for future expansions of the wastewater system.

Sharkey said Southport’s engineers, Hazen and Sawyer, thought it was unfair how the county determines the percentage some of its participants will pay for future expansions. They recommended the city negotiate a different formula.

“We want to be a participant and we’re willing to pay our fair share, but we also want our own sewer district recognized and we want to make sure it’s a fair cost-sharing agreement,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey indicated that a lack of discussion regarding the points she included in her motion may have contributed to the failure of the original agreement.