Clayton News-Star

Aqua to expand treatment plan at Flowers Plantation

Aqua North Carolina, the state’s largest private water utility, is expanding its sewage-treatment plant serving more than 5,400 customers near Clayton.

The company provides water to the sprawling Flowers Plantation neighborhood and several other Johnston subdivisions. It says the $1 million expansion will grow the capacity at the treatment plant from 250,000 to 350,000 gallons per day.

Aqua expects the project to be completed by April 2015.

Water sales have increased by more than 30 percent over 2013 at Flowers, a 3,000-acre development just east of Clayton with room for 7,790 homes. Based on growth estimates, the state would have soon required Aqua to expand its plant, said company spokeswoman Gretchen Toner.

“Knowing this, Aqua is building an incremental expansion in treatment capacity now,” Toner said.

Aqua’s long-term plan is to build a treatment plant capable of producing 750,000 gallons per day, Toner said. That level of flow would be the highest allowed under the utility’s current federal permit.

Aqua will pay for the design and engineering of the expansion. But Flowers Plantation’s developer will pay for the build-out by reimbursing the utility for construction costs.

In the late 1990s, Aqua, formerly operating as Heater, acquired rights to serve Flowers Plantation from River Dell Utilities, a company owned by Flowers developer Rebecca Flowers. As part of the deal, both sides agreed that the subdivision’s developer would help pay for expansions through “contributions in aid of construction.”

Utility companies sometime use the contributions as tools – separate from rate revenues – to help offset construction costs.

In recent months, Flowers residents have attacked Aqua’s higher-than-average rates, which cost a typical home more than $93 each month for water and sewer service. Residents have been especially critical of the company’s $65.21 flat fee for sewer, more than double than what the Town of Clayton charges its customers.

When defending the company’s flat rate structure earlier this year, Aqua North Carolina President Tom Roberts said the company can spread cost and risk across all Aqua customers, not just those in Flowers. For instance, in the case of a major sewer project in Flowers, he said, all of the utility’s customers, not just local ones, would pay the cost.

With this expansion, though, the Flowers Plantation developer will cover the construction costs. That puzzles Flowers resident Kathy Kowalski.

“It’s contradicting what the president said,” Kowalski said. “The developers are funding the improvements, which contradicts the fact that we get all these rate increases to expand treatment centers.”

Reid Stephenson, director of information and sales at Flowers, said about 30 percent of the neighborhood is complete. While building increased this year, he said he expects even greater growth in 2015.

“We certainly treat this as good news that Aqua is taking the position of keeping up with the development, rather than waiting until the need is there and getting into a crisis,” Stephenson said. “They are being proactive, which is a good thing.”