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Main St. sewer issue resolved

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

After nearly a year of uncertainty and temporary fixes, the sewer issues related to the 100 block of East Main Street have been resolved with grant funding secured by Carrboro officials.

Earlier this summer, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen authorized the application for grant funding from the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Small Business Entrepreneurial Assistance Grant Program, administered through the Division of Community Investment and Assistance, to fund the extension of a sewer line along Roberson Street. Through the program, funding is available to local governments to assist existing small businesses and entrepreneurs in expanding, creating or retaining jobs.

Last August, a private sewer line began to discharge sewage in a parking lot behind businesses on the 100 block of East Main Street. A temporary fix was made to the line, and owners of property on the south side of the block of Main Street from Armadillo Grill to Friendly Barber began working to permanently fix the problem.

Because the line in question is a private line, OWASA policies state that the utility is not responsible for maintaining it, leaving property owners responsible for the high-cost fix.

Without a long-term fix, the issue could have forced the closure of the restaurants and bar on the block. However, property owners ran into issues with the repair, which would have required crossing over the property of Jean Ward, who owns the building that houses Friendly Barber and the Orange County Social Club. Given the location of her property, Ward had the option to separate from the group and run her own line to the Main Street main – an option that other property owners didn’t have without going through cost-prohibitive plumbing renovations.

Property and business owners appealed to the town for help, and the town attempted to negotiate a public easement over Ward’s property for the line, but an agreement could not be reached, and town officials determined that extending a sewer line along Roberson Street would be the best option for the repairs.

For the sewer project, estimated to cost $233,600, the town received $171,700 in grant funding. The remainder will be covered by matching funds from the town and Orange County.

Carrboro economic-development director Annette Stone said the project will aid in the retention of 140 jobs at the businesses on the block.

“If we lose that sewer, then we lose that block of jobs,” she said. Moreover, the new sewer, to which properties will make individual connections, will clear up the ambiguity of the shared line.

“If one of [the new individual connections] breaks, it’s that individual’s responsibility to take care of that,” Stone said. With the current line, “it’s just fuzzy.”

The new sewer line – on which Stone said construction will start around the beginning of next year – will be in the public right-of-way and will be turned over to OWASA once it’s completed, Stone said.

Acme owner Kevin Callaghan said he is pleased with how the situation was resolved.

“Individually, we as businesses couldn’t really come up with anything that was financially feasible,” he said. “[The town] stepped in and came up with this solution.”

Callaghan said the new line won’t just be good for current businesses and property owners, but for the future of downtown overall.

“I think that Carrboro wants downtown to work, and this really is an infrastructure piece that will make downtown work,” he said. “It’ll open up Roberson Street. It’ll make Roberson Street an easier place … if businesses are wanting to go in there. It creates that network.”

Callaghan said he didn’t know how much the individual sewer connections would cost, but that it would be significantly less than what businesses were previously facing to connect to the Main Street line, which he said could have cost Acme as much as $70,000 to $80,000.

The cost to connect to the sewer is well worth it for a long-term fix, Callaghan said, adding that it enables him to give his 45 employees job security.

“That’s one of the ways that I’ll be able to guarantee them that they’ll have a job tomorrow and the next day.”

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