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Questions arise over renovations to wastewater treatment facility

Five public hearings opened the agenda for Norwood’s Town Commission meeting on Monday night. And while the first four were relatively calm, the final one drew sharp questioning directed toward the town’s administrator and commissioners.
After having approved two zoning amendments, and having continued two other public hearings to the second meeting in September, the final hearing on the agenda was to gather input on the town’s intent to apply for loan and grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for renovations, repairs and improvements at the town’s wastewater treatment facility.
Dwight Smith, former mayor and town administrator, asked commissioners their intent in applying for the funding.
“Renovations,” replied Town Adminstrator John Mullis, in reference to the wastewater treatment plant.
“What is wrong there?” followed Smith.
“A lot,” said Mullis. “We will be replacing the headworks, two clarifiers and sludge pump, an ultraviolet disinfection system and making electrical and safety improvements.”
Smith asked Mullis if it was correct that the plant was currently operating under an order of consent, to which Mullis replied in the affirmative. Smith asked why the town was operating the plant under the order.
“It’s because the clarifier failed about a year ago,” said Mullis.
“Why is the clarifier in that condition?” asked Smith.
Mullis replied that the clarifier’s state of disrepair was a result of “deferred maintenance and age.”
“Is it true that a tree fell onto the clarifier and messed up the skimmer?” asked Smith.
“No, that’s not true,” countered Mullis. “We had to trim limbs at the plant and there were limbs all around it, but that’s not what the cause was.”
Smith continued. “What caused it?” he asked.
“It failed,” said Mullis, “just age. I’m not an engineer, but I’ve had an engineer look at it. What happened to the clarifier is irrelevant to the public hearing.”
“That’s true,” agreed Smith, “but if you intend to do this, you should have had a study performed.”
“We did,” said Mullis, “and this was the result of the study.”
“Is the study available to the public?” asked Smith, and he was told by Mullis that it is.
Commissioner Robbie Cohen asked Smith about a photo of the clarifier he had brought to the meeting, and Mayor pro-tem Linda Campbell asked when the picture was taken.
“I have a picture of just how some of the skimmers look,” replied Smith.
“I don’t know when it was taken,” he said in reply to Campbell’s question. “It was sent to me about two or three weeks ago.”
“Is the tree on there, too?” asked Commissioner James Lilly regarding the photograph.
“If you all haven’t heard about this, you aren’t listening to your constituents,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of people talking about this in the town.”
“I haven’t heard it,” said Commissioner Wes Hartsell.
“I’ve not heard a word,” added Cohen.
Campbell asked Smith, “Could you let us know what you’ve heard?”
“It’s what I’ve just told you,” replied Smith. “It’s that a tree was cut, and fell onto the basin, and destroyed the skimmer.”
“That is not what actually caused it,” said Mullis. “A tree limb did fall on the edge of the basin, but as far as what the cause was, we have no idea.”
Smith noted the skimmers are designed to be replaced “every seven or eight years,” and that the last replacement had been “about seven years before I left.”
“So those skimmers should have been replaced,” he said. “It only costs about four or five hundred dollars to replace them.”
“OK, so no tree was cut and fell onto the clarifier?” asked Smith.
“No tree was cut or fell on it to my knowledge,” replied Mullis.
With no other public comment on the application, the commissioners unanimously approved, following a motion by Lilly and a second by Hartsell, to move ahead with the application process.
Mullis gave the administrative report, which led to one item of business, the approval of payment to Browning Electric for wiring of a generator and electrical installations at the wastewater treatment plant. Cohen moved, seconded by Lilly and approved unanimously to approve the payment of $19,830.
Two items of unfinished business were addressed next.
The first, acceptance of a five-year, $46,000 financing option on a new K-9 unit police vehicle through Uwharrie Bank, was approved unanimously.
The second item, also gaining unanimous approval, was of a $38,000 contract with Champion Fencing to erect fencing that will enclose a vehicle storage area between the town’s new and old shop facilities off Blalock Street.
In the meeting’s final agenda item, commissioners unanimously approved, on a motion by Cohen and a second by Hartsell, the acceptance of a settlement with Stanly County over the recent suit regarding the town’s agreement with Union County to allow water intake from Lake Tillery.
In other business, commissioners:
• Approved a uniform guidance policy for procurement;
• Appointed Kelly Caudle as town clerk and Carmen Salmon as deputy clerk;
• Appointed Carmen Salmon as finance officer and Kelly Caudle as deputy finance officer;
• Authorized the opening of a consolidated deposit account for the town’s general fund and enterprise fund;
• Declared as surplus and authorized the sale of a 2002 Ford Taurus which had been used by the Norwood Police Department; and
• Approved by a 4-1 vote (Cohen dissented) the acceptance of a 15-year, fixed rate financing plan for the new town hall through United Financial Services.
The council set the next meeting for 6 p.m. Sept. 4.