Citizens say no to water-sewer plan proposal

By Amelia Harper, Graphic Correspondent

CASTALIA – At the November monthly business meeting held on November 13, Castalia Commissioners were faced with a petition from worried citizens who urged them to abandon the most recent water and sewer proposal and to look for other solutions instead. Last month, Castalia held a public forum on the issue during which engineers presented various plans that would mean water and sewer bills ranging from $115-$200 a month for the average customer, depending on the type of system installed and the amount of grant money the town would receive.

Last Tuesday, Lynn Hale, a local citizen of the town presented the board with a petition signed by 82 members of the Castalia community. The petition stated: “We, the undersigned citizens of Castalia, do hereby petition the Castalia Town Board to abandon the present plan for water and sewer, as the citizens of Castalia cannot afford to pay the high costs. In the future, the board should work with Nash County and their engineers to come up with a more affordable water and sewer plan.”

Olla Mae Bobbitt, the chairman of the planning board, said that she supported the petition, though she also supported the concept of sewer services. “We are not saying that we do not want sewer services, but the cost of the current plan is just unacceptable,” Bobbitt said in a later interview.

At the meeting, Castalia citizen Brenda Strickland said that she felt that the town was rushing into this. “I moved to Castalia because I wanted to live in a small town,” she said. Several other citizens present at the meeting agreed with her.

Commissioner Russ Sigmund tried to still the troubled waters by assuring citizens that a vote would not be taken in the near future. “We are still early in the process,” he said. “A decision is still premature.”

Commissioner James Alston agreed. “We won’t know the final costs until we get more information,” he said. “Then we need to rethink the issue.”

At the public hearing last month, one of the points of confusion was that engineers were not clear on how many sewer customers could be added to the current water customer base of approximately 150 customers. Engineer Mark Russell had explained to the town that the high water sewer costs of the proposed plan could be lessened as the customer base expanded. However, Nash County Utilities Director Derek Hawkes had stated that he was not certain how much expansion the current sewer line to Universal Leaf could handle.

In an interview this week, Hawkes said that he had run the figures and felt that the town could safely figure on the capacity to provided sewer services to 70 homes in addition to the current water customer base. These figures, he explained, were based on the 350 gallon per customer figure normally used in planning sewer services. However, he did say that there may be other strategies that could be used to possibly increase that expansion figure to some extent as time went on.

In the meantime, the potential high cost of the system has many citizens fearful of the future. Commissioner Sylvia Mann tried to alleviate their fears by saying that she would not feel comfortable voting for such a costly plan herself. “I know that I cannot afford to pay $200 a month for water and sewer and many other people can’t either.”

Commissioner Melissa Joyner agreed. “I am not willing to vote on something that will cause a hardship on people. I have to be able to afford it myself.”

Several citizens urged Castalia commissioners to hold a referendum on the issue before commissioners made a final decision. However, they also urged commissioners to only allow Castalia citizens who were directly affected by the issue to vote. Olla Mae Bobbitt cited the example of the Vision Forum meeting in which an overwhelming majority, 23 people, had voted in favor of sewer services, while just 10 of those were actually current citizens of the town.

In any case, Commissioner Joyner urged the people to become more involved in learning about the issue. “I get calls from people worried about the issue and asking for information about what is going on. In the meantime, there are only eight citizens here present tonight. People need to be at the meeting and see what is going on for themselves. Then they can make their feelings known.”