Lee, Sanford leaders foresee advantages to Chatham Park

Jun. 11, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

A few hours before Pittsboro town officials voted Monday night to approve Chatham Park, several Sanford and Lee County officials also spoke about opportunities to profit from the massive development locally.

At a joint meeting of Sanford City Council and Lee County Board of Commissioners members, the county proposed transferring a state-of-the-art wastewater lift station on Colon Road to the city. County officials said it could be a big money maker, but city officials didn't make a decision right away.

The city of Sanford, unlike the county, is in the water and sewage business. It provides utilities not only to homes and companies in Lee County, but also in Pittsboro. And Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack said the city could do some good business with the lift station.

Jordan Lake, Womack said he was told at a recent N.C. Association of County Commissioners meeting, is the planned water source for the massive Chatham Park development. But it's also well known for being polluted by agricultural runoff and algae, problems that might be too expensive to fix.

"That's huge," he said. "That changes the whole dynamic."

Womack said that if Jordan Lake isn't cleaned up enough, either some companies will refrain from moving in or the park developers will have to look elsewhere for water. Since Pittsboro already buys some water from Sanford, he said, it stands to reason they may want more. Or if companies decide they no longer want to locate in Pittsboro, they have nearby alternatives including the Lee County Industrial Park.

"No matter how you look at this, it makes Lee County look better — whether as a source for water or a source for development," Womack said.

The county paid $1.6 million for the station before the recession, Lee County Manager John Crumpton said, anticipating an influx of businesses to the industrial park. But that never happened, and it has gone unused. And with the General Assembly now leaving it to counties to make up for education spending cuts, he said, Lee County needs to offload unused property.

City Manager Hal Hegwer didn't give a definitive yes or no Monday. He said the city's staff and elected officials would have to think it over, since the county's own experience has shown it's a high-risk, high-reward plan.

"It was an aggressive idea," Hegwer said of buying the lift station. "If the [recession] hadn't happened, it could've been great. ... Unfortunately, it's just sat there. But if the right thing had come along, it would've looked genius."