Smithfield Herald

RTP leader calls on county

Johnston County could soon have a presence in Research Triangle Park.

RTP’s chief executive, Bob Geolas, visited Johnston County Commissioners on Monday. The nephew of Commissioner Cookie Pope, Geolas came to Smithfield to update county leaders on RTP, including expansion plans that call for shops, restaurants and housing in the park, known mostly for its corporate tenants.

But Geolas also offered commissioners free office space in RTP to help the county woo business and industry.

He said one goal behind the offer was to build stronger ties between Johnston County and RTP. “We would like to find a way to use that physical space to create a much stronger relationship,” he said. “And as a result, we can come here more, bring opportunities to this county and help grow opportunity for our whole state.”

Commissioners’ Chairman Jeff Carver called the offer generous and said county staff would explore how to use the space.

Geolas said he wants to make sure RTP helps the whole state, not just its closest neighbors. “We’ve got to find a way to take the assets and resources that I know you all are investing here and get that information into the hands of companies that may be looking at North Carolina,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Godwin asked Geolas about public transportation from Johnston County to RTP. He noted recent discussions among Triangle leaders about regional light rail: For now, plans call for that rail to stop at the border of Wake and Johnston counties.

“I don’t know that we’re a proponent of that necessarily,” Godwin said of light rail, “but there has been some thinking that we maybe ought to have a seat at that table in those discussions.”

Commissioners are now looking at how to involve themselves in those discussions. Geolas said if people can get to RTP, he will make sure they have transportation inside the park.

Sewer repairs

After a pipe on Buffalo Road spilled sewage twice last month, the county plans to replace that segment of sewer line. Public Utilities director Chandra Coats is seeking an emergency no-interest loan from the state to cover most of the cost but will proceed with repairs even if the loan falls through.

The 30-year-old, elevated pipe is made of metal, and at the highest elevations, air collects inside the pipe, causing it to corrode and then leak. The repairs would replace 5,700 feet of the 12-inch metal pipe with 16-inch plastic piping at cost of $530,000.

Coats recommended 16-inch piping because of increasing use of Johnston’s sewer system.

If the county can’t get the loan, it will replace only 3,800 feet of the worst part of the pipe. That would cost about $355,000, with the money coming from cash reserves in the sewer fund.

Also on Monday, commissioners approved the next step in the county’s sewer-rehab project. The county will seek low-interest state loans to replace or repair sewer infrastructure in three areas: Holt Lake, U.S. 301 from White Swan to the Neuse River and on Buffalo Road. The total cost of the improvements: $1.2 million.

Other business

State Sen. Brent Jackson also visited commissioners on Monday. He represents District 10, which includes Johnston, Duplin and Sampson counties.

Jackson came to see if commissioners had any questions of him. Commissioners Pope and Tony Braswell brought up a familiar topic for the senator: lottery money. State lawmakers have been balancing recent budgets in part with lottery dollars that were supposed to go to counties for school needs.

Braswell said the county’s legislative delegation has done a good job petitioning House and Senate leaders to make good on the lottery’s promise for counties.

Jackson said he supported the county’s position. “You’re preaching to the choir,” he said. “I’ll continue to voice those concerns.”

Chris Johnson, the county economic-development director, honored Carolina Packers, a Smithfield company known for its red hot dogs. The honor is the first in a series of quarterly awards Johnson’s office has launched to salute Johnston industries.