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City council moves forward on utility-sharing plan

Sanford City council is considering an extension of water service to Pittsboro and Chatham County in a joint project that could benefit the entire region.

The long-term project would connect Sanford’s water treatment facility to Pittsboro and Chatham County, both municipalities in need of more water as the population grows and businesses consider building new facilities in the area.

The city council heard a presentation Tuesday from engineering consultant company Freese and Nichols on the potential benefits and drawbacks the project.

What is the goal of the project?

With access to water from the Cape Fear River, Sanford is in a unique position, said Freese and Nichols Vice President Charles Archer. Unlike others in the region, the city has access to a “reliable, safe and high-yield water source,” up to 41 million gallons at the Sanford water treatment plant.

Pittsboro and Chatham County, on the other hand, have smaller systems that may make it difficult for them to meet demand in coming years, Archer said.

“(Sanford) has an existing 12 million gallons a day system. Pittsboro has a 1.8 million gallon per day system,” he said. “It’s an urgent for the town of Pittsboro to look at increasing their water supply.

Chatham County has an adequate supply of water, but it’s not all in the right place, Archer added. Their problem is a lack of water supply to the Moncure Megasite, a 2,500-acre business park officials hope will eventually attract a company like Apple to the region.

“To maximize the opportunities for the Moncure Megasite, additional water supply is needed,” Archer said.

What are the benefits?

If Sanford works with its neighbors to expand the regional water system, the cost of expansion for all three municipalities goes down, Archer said. Sanford, Pittsboro and Chatham County would share the cost of the project, estimated at $34 million.

The project would include expanding the capacity of Sanford’s current water treatment plant and installing a new system to reduce PFAS and other, more traditional contaminants, said Sanford Public Works Director Vic Czar.

“If we do it by ourselves, the cost could be as high as $89 million,” Czar said. “If we get the right combination of partners, our cost could be $40 million. It’s significant. The more partners you get, the lower cost it is for everybody on a per gallon basis.”

Sanford’s contribution could also help boost business at the Moncure Megasite, Czar said.

“We’ve done a fantastic job of job creation here in Lee County, there’s no doubt about it, but we do not have a megasite,” he said. “The jobs that could be created at the Moncure Megasite will benefit Sanford.”

Having a larger system will also lower Sanford’s operating costs, Archer said, citing “economy of scale.” In addition, connecting the systems will allow Sanford to buy water from other municipalities in case of an emergency, he said.

“The state encourages that (interconnectivity), from a sound engineering perspective,” he said. “It makes your system more resilient and provides redundancy.“

Are officials in favor?

Archer commended the city council for their willingness to consider working with local partners. He said the Pittsboro and Chatham County boards of commissioners “reacted favorably” to his presentation on the joint project.

“It’s hard for smaller systems to work in this day or time. It’s just so expensive, as you well know, to expand treatment plants for water and wastewater,” Archer said. “Working with neighbors is the most economical way and efficient way, for everybody, for all the ratepayers, all the citizens, to benefit.

“That saying, the rising tide lifts all ships, it really does apply here.”

Mayor Chet Mann was in favor of the project, saying it is a way for him and other council members to live up to campaign promises of getting a greater return on investment.

“We have 41 million gallons per day potential (water) capacity that no-one else has. I’m of the personal belief that if we help others improve, we improve with them,” Mann said. “To me, this is an incredible opportunity, almost a home run for the city of Sanford, in the sense that we’re taking an asset that most people wouldn’t share or know how to share, and getting a return on it.”

Also Tuesday, the city council unanimously approved:

• the rezoning of 419 acres east and west of Cumnock Road near Deep River for the Village of Cumnock neighborhood, a mixed-use development including single-family homes, townhomes, apartments and commercial facilities;

• a rezoning request by Audentes Therapeutics, now Astellas Gene Therapies, to install a 184-square-foot sign off Colon Road;

• a rezoning request by Lee County to create a new parking lot on Douglas Drive for the County of Lee Transportation System, or COLTS; and

• the closure of an unopened portion of Hufford Street east of Hawkins Avenue.

Sanford poets share their stories

People from across Lee County celebrated the art of the spoken word Tuesday at an awards ceremony for the county’s first-ever poetry contest.

The Lee County Arts Council called for submissions from people of all ages throughout April, which was National Poetry Month. The dozen or so poems they received were judged anonymously by council members Ty Stumpf and Bianka Rhodes Stumpf on a 10-point system, said arts council Director Gwendolyn Lee.

The judges selected winners in two categories, one for poets under age 18 and one for poets 18 and older, Lee said Tuesday.

Jay-Lynn Ray, 11, was the winner in the under age 18 category with her “poem/spoken word piece/lecture” titled “In a perfect world,” Lee said. The sixth-grader quietly read her poem before accepting a certificate and $50 cash prize.

The winner in the over age 18 category, who received a $100 cash prize, was William Johnson, who said he is “a poet to the core.”

“Poetry is my purpose,” Johnson said. “Poetry actually saved my life.”

Before reading his poem entitled “Ghetto Battlefield,” Johnson gave a shout out to the other artists in the room.

“I flunked art, I got a D minus minus,” he said bluntly. “(The) art teacher told me I didn’t have the gift, I said, ‘Well, where can I play an instrument?’ I tried to play an instrument, they said I didn’t have the ear. Thank God that somebody realized I had the gift, in eighth grade, to write poetry. I got the heart.”

Several other poets who entered the contest read their poems aloud during the quasi-open-mic. And as each spoke, with their own style and voice, the silence between the beats of their words became art.

Commissioner urges county to find role to help homeless
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Commissioner Bill Carver made an impassioned pitch Monday for the county to help the community in dealing with homelessness.

“I’d like to find a role for county government to encourage and supplement this effort,” Carver said.

His presentation focused on the efforts of S3 Housing Connect, a coalition of agencies that help the homeless find shelter and become productive residents of the community.

Among the members of the coalition are Outreach Mission Inc., Bread of Life Ministries, Family Promise of Lee County, Haven, H3 — Dr. Hall’s street medicine initiative, Brick Capital Community Development Inc., The Salvation Army, Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action Inc. and Daymark Recovery.

The most important role of S3, Carver said, “is leveraging and coordinating private-public resources” to help the homeless.

That segment of the population includes those with issues such as substance abuse, veterans and those who find themselves out of a home.

“There’s a misconception that there’s an effort made by S3 and groups like them to simply make it easy on people stay in a homeless status.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Carver said.

The community needs about 1,044 units to help people find affordable housing, which is defined as no more than 30% of the annual income, Carver said.

One consideration is how much money is needed to put down on housing and where is the housing found, Carver said.

He suggested a “pragmatic reality check: “The greater the severity of an individual or family’s situation, the greater the community cost when unhoused,” Carver said.

“Multiple resources that are not coordinated result in an inefficient duplication of services and segments of the population that are not being served.”

Carver asked that the county consider supporting S3’s mission, pointing out that counties across North Carolina find ways to support similar efforts.

By supporting the homeless by some means, Carver said, it can make for a stronger, better community.

“We’re not sustaining irresponsible behavior. What this organization and people contributing to it are trying to do is improve the lot of people who are in it (homelessness). Ultimately, making a contributing citizen out of somebody who’s been struggling is an advantage to us.”

Shots fired into Sanford home

A Sanford couple escaped injury early Wednesday after multiple shots were fired into their home.

The incident happened about 4:20 a.m., according to a Sanford police report.

The shots were fired into a home in the 600 block of Scott Ave., the report said.

The report did not indicate how many shots were fired.

One shot entered the residence and lodged in a couch, police Detective Capt. Bradley Upchurch said.

Damage also documented to a wall, a wooden bench, front and storm doors and the siding of the house, the report said.

A third person was inside the house at the time of the shooting, Upchurch said.

“We’re not sure at this time who the target was, but there was at least one other person present at the time of the shooing that we’re still trying to identify,” Upchurch said.

No injuries were reported.

Lee Co. man, Moore Co. woman charged with insurance fraud

Two people are accused of staging a wreck in Lee County in an attempt to defraud an insurance company.

Yushawn Antonio Johnson, 24, of 5315 Arrowwood Circle, Sanford, and Elizabeth Jowana McCall, 24, of Aberdeen, were served with criminal summonses April 24, charging them with insurance fraud and attempting to obtain property by false pretense, according to a release from the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Both charges are felonies, the release said. Johnson and McCall were served with criminal summons on the charges.

On July 10, 2019, the two attempted to obtain an insurance claim payment from Repwest Insurance Co., the release said.

They claimed that Johnson was injured and his 2008 gray Infiniti G37 couple was damaged in a collision with a U-Haul truck, the release said.

The crash was staged at Fulton and Second streets in Sanford, a DOI spokesman said.

Agents from the DOI Criminal Investigations Division determined Johnson’s car was already damaged and that the wreck was staged, the release said.

Johnson and McCall are scheduled to appear in Lee County District Court on May 26.

“Insurance fraud is a crime affecting everyone,” Mike Causey, commissioner of the state Department of Insurance, said in the release. “Approximately 20% of insurance premium costs go to pay for insurance fraud.”

Causey has more than doubled the number of special agents to investigate fraud and white-collar crimes, the release said.

Between 2017 and 2020, agents made 1,612 arrests on fraud charges, the release said.