CFPUA board approves contract for construction of GAC filters

Updated: Sep. 11, 2019 at 12:26 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A $35.9 million contract to build eight new granular activated carbon (GAC) filters at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant was approved by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board on Wednesday.

“Today really was the conclusion of over two years worth of work to understand the issues related to PFAS contamination and to understand what our options are as a utility to reduce those levels in our drinking water so we can better protect public health,” said CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner.

Adams-Robinson Enterprises Inc. will begin construction in November.

“The new filters are expected to begin operating in 2022 and enable Sweeney to reduce PFAS concentrations in water from the Cape Fear by an average of 90 percent,” CFPUA officials said in a news release. “The GAC filters emerged as the best option for Sweeney following an extensive pilot study that also examined reverse osmosis and ion-exchange media.”

“We had almost a year’s worth of pilot testing to understand what treatment process would compliment the treatment we already have at our plant that would economically give us a way we could reduce these compounds and provide a higher quality water. And GAC goes to the top as the best solution for us,” Flechtner said.

Flechtner explained the GAC contractors are essentially large containers that will hold 12-foot deep beds of Granular Activated Carbon. As water flows across the carbon at the end of the treatment process, contaminants will attach to the carbon .

“We’ve seen levels of these PFAS compounds go up and down in our source water and with these filters we’ll be able to keep those levels as low as technology will allow us to," Flechtner said.

Also on Wednesday, the board unanimously approved the sale of 25-year revenue bonds, estimated to total $107.3 million. Of that amount, $43 million will fund the treatment enhancements project at the Sweeney plant. This amount includes a $3 million contract with Black & Veatch for construction-phase support on the project.

About $15.4 million of the bond sale will go to pay CFPUA’s portion of construction costs for an additional pipeline to convey raw water from the Cape Fear River to the Sweeney plant.

“In addition, $48.2 million of the bond proceeds will be used to refinance certain outstanding debt – which, based on current market conditions, is expected to save customers approximately $4.2 million over the life of that debt – and about $650,000 will pay for costs to issue the bonds,” the release said. “The bonds are scheduled to be considered for approval by the North Carolina Local Government Commission on October 1, with an expected sale date of October 17.”

Flechtner said settlements from the ongoing lawsuits with both Chemours and Dupont, the companies responsible for emitting toxins into the drinking supply, should eventually cover the cost of the new treatment.

“It’s about a $46 million ticket for construction and design work and that will come from our rates right now. But we don’t believe our rate payers should have to pay this cost. We think the people who put these contaminants in the environment and in the river, and these contaminants persist there, are the ones who should pay for this. And that would be Chemours and DuPont, which is why we filed lawsuits against both of those companies,” Flechtner said.

For now, CFPUA customers can expect to see their monthly bill increase by about $5, but if the settlement is won, CFPUA leaders say customer costs would be reduced significantly.

Constructed is slated to begin in Nov. 2019 with a final completion date of May 2022.

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