Red Springs has been struggling since 2003 to have its wastewater treatment plant meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements. The town learned last October that it would have to spend millions to upgrade the treatment plant, fix infiltration problems and relocate the discharge point by about eight miles.
But Farmer says a little investigative work and the hand of fate may reduce costs considerably.
Original plans to move the discharge point from Little Raft Swamp to the Lumber River have been shelved and Farmer is focusing on repairing sewer lines and pipes in the town instead.
Farmer says he wants to smoke test the entire system to see where the problems are, and then figure out how to get the most repairs for the least money.
“When somebody says they're going to spend money, my first question is, ‘Why?'” Farmer said. “I'm not comfortable putting a dollar anywhere without doing my due diligence. You don't just stick money in the ground and then look to see if it works.”
The town has also been helped by a recent announcement by Clayson Knitting that it will shut down its dyeing operation to become a distribution center. The news was a hit to the town's economic fortunes - 125 workers will be laid off in February - but the business' restructuring will ease the pressure on the treatment plant. Clayson was the town's only real source of industrial sewer discharge. Red Springs was looking at having to shell out at least $4 million to move the town's discharge point to help meet EPA regulations on toxicity, a problem largely caused by the plant's discharge.
Even before the announcement, however, the town had managed to pass those toxicity tests for the last eight months after figuring out that the cause of the problem was chlorine, not metals as originally thought. The state slapped the town with more stringent metal requirements in an effort to lower toxicity, and Farmer is confident that those requirements will be loosened eventually as the town continues to pass toxicity requirements.
“With Clayson leaving, the state is very much agreeable to us not running right out and sinking $4 million in the ground,” Farmer said. “If we can meet our permit parameters through a change on a piece of paper, then we've saved the public $4 million.”
The town still has to fix its treatment plant and problems with sewer lines, but Farmer thinks he can lower costs there, too.
“What I'm hoping is to take the original estimate of $10 million, about $7 million of which the town was going to have to shoulder, if we can drop this down to a couple million, and then get as many grants as I can,” he said.
Not all of the problems can be cheaply solved, though.
“I feel pretty comfortable that we're going to have to put some money in that treatment plant,” he said. “We need an aerobic digester, we're going to need an equalization basin, various things... . We're going to have to do that. We really should have been doing this all along.”