If the county chooses to not invest in the proposed Interstates Sewer Project, it could cripple economic development in the district.
That was the message delivered by property and business owners Wednesday, who gathered at Brintle’s Truck Stop to plead for investment in the project.
“We need this sewer system out here,” said Tommy Brintle, owner of the truck stop that employs about 75 people.
Brintle said his business is dumping wastewater into a 30-year-old septic system that is on its last leg.
And declining to invest in the project could end new business locating in the area.
The plan, which would extend sewer service to the Interstates 77 and 74 areas west of Mount Airy, seeks to stimulate growth in what officials have identified as a prime development area near the two highways.
The city has pledged $1 million to the project, provided the county uses the combined system, which would offer more capacity and the ability to connect Gentry Middle and North Surry High schools to the service.
In addition to the $1 million in funding pledged to the project by Mount Airy, the county has secured $1 million in funding from the Rural Center, and an additional $300,000 in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $200,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation, $150,000 through a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and a pledge of about $160,000 from property owners in the district.
That leaves about $2.5 million, when all is said and done, that will have to be paid by the county, Knopf said, noting that the county will most likely have to take on more debt to pay for the project.
The county has an April 19 deadline to finalize approval of all funding for the project.
According to Brintle, a five-acre parcel he owns near Interstate 77 has been eyed for a new convenience store complete with a Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“We’ve worked with the Department of Transportation to get an entrance approved straight from the ramp on I-77 to the property,” he said. “We have plans to put in that store, which would employ around 50 people, but we can’t do it without the sewer system.
“With what you have to go through to locate the businesses on the property, it’s just not worth it without the sewer.”
And Brintle isn’t the only person concerned that the project, which would supply county sewer service along the corridor, could fall through.
“We can’t do any development out here without sewer service,” lamented Rhonda Collins, owner of Beary Country. “No one will come. I have three lots on my property that I’d like to locate businesses on, but we can’t attract new businesses without the sewer service. I’ve talked to several people over the years and they just say to call them when we get the sewer service.”
For property owner J.T. Henson, it only makes sense to invest in the project.
“I have people inquiring about my property all the time, but without the sewer service it’s the end of the discussion,” he said.
For Henson, the project is about economic development and providing sewer service to Gentry Middle and North Surry High schools.
“Both of those schools need the service,” he said, noting that the project has been in the works for decades. “I’ve been dealing with it for almost 19 years. Previous boards have promised to provide us sewer, and it’s been delayed over and over. It’s like we’re the red-headed stepchild. We haven’t had the political influence.”
Henson said completion of the project will stimulate economic development.
“We’re the only major intersection on the Interstate system in the county that doesn’t have water and sewer provided by the county,” he said. “On every other major intersection, there’s water and sewer. But not here.”
Irregardless of future jobs in the area, the three said that much more delay could end up costing the county jobs.
“I employ about 75 people, and the state is continuously tightening up on what we can discharge from our septic system into the river,” he said. “It’s getting to the point that we’re no longer going to be able to discharge, and that could close our doors.”
“We could lost part of the jobs that are already here, much less create more jobs,” Collins said.
Brintle said the proposed convenience store on his property would employ about 50 people.
“I’d say my project alone would create a tax base in excess of $2 million,” he said.
Collins said everyone is thankful for the work put in by county staff and the board of commissioners, but added she’s worried it could fall through at the last minute.
“This is the closest we’ve ever been to getting this project done,” she said, looking out the restaurant window at vacant lots. “The most growth potential for the whole county is right here. If the board doesn’t do it, they’re throwing away money. With our county working so hard for jobs, Tommy (Brintle) is sitting right here ready to create them.
“Just provide the opportunity and infrastructure to let him do it.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.