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Posted: April 29, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Covington will expand sewer if NCSS buys land

 The Newton County Board of Education is interested in buying property north of the Covington airport for a new school, and if it does buy property, the Water and Sewage Authority will build sewer lines to cover that area.

 The BOE is looking to purchase property directly west of the intersection of Ga. Highway 142 and Airport Road, which is owned by the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, according to IDA Secretary Frank Turner Jr. The Newton County School System does not comment on potential land acquisitions, said Sherri Viniard, NCSS public relations director.

 WSA Executive Director Mike Hopkins said the WSA will build sewer lines and a sewer pump station to service the area only if the school goes ahead with the property purchase.

 "We’re not going to build any infrastructure until the school makes plans," Hopkins said. "All we’re trying to do now is put agreements in place so that we’re prepared if the NCSS decides to build a school."

 The 143-acre, IDA-owned parcel of land being considered already has water lines running to it, but no sewer lines. Hopkins said that most residential properties in the rural parts of the county have septic tanks, but larger industries and schools would be better served by a sewer system. Hopkins said the sewer lines and pump station would take around six to eight months to build.

 Covington, Newton County and the IDA view the area as a potential location for future industries and Turner said larger industries will not even consider an area without a sewer system. City Manager Steve Horton recommended to the city council that the city participate in the project because of the potential benefit if the area becomes an industrial site.

 Based on potential sewer tap fees alone, the city would earn more than $2 million if this area was fully built-out. In addition, the WSA would earn a substantial amount of money from future water tap fees.

 Because the WSA will be fronting the costs of the sewer line and pump station, the city council agreed to help the WSA in two ways. First, the city will charge the WSA the current sewer tap rate fee, $10.28 per gallon, for any developments on the property. This is a discount, because the sewer tap rate fee will likely increase over time, Horton said. In addition, the city will also deduct one fourth of the cost to build the sewer line and pump station from the sewer tap fees.

 The cost of the 5,333 feet of sewer line and the sewer pump station is between $440,000 and $500,000, so the city will deduct $125,000, one fourth the total cost of the project, from the amount the WSA will pay in sewer tap fees over the years. Horton said the sewer line and pump station could be a collaborative project that will benefit all parties involved.

 "Without sewer, large industrial users will be unable to fully utilize the property. The city’s contribution could be looked upon as an investment in future jobs. It is also possible that the property may be annexed into the city at some time in the future," Horton said in an April 6 memo to the city council.

 "In other words, somebody has to make a commitment to better develop the site so that industries will move there," Horton added in a later phone call. "Without sewer we won’t get any industry."

 Turner said he expected the IDA to also provide a quarter of the money for the project and he said the BOE may also provide money. Hopkins said that sewer service was not out in that area previously because sewer lines are expensive to install and mechanical pump stations are expensive to build and maintain. He said on average, a sewer system costs six times as much to build as a water system, because of more expensive equipment and more regulations.

 Hopkins said that building a sewer system out there would potentially save the school system money and allow for more efficient use of land because a large septic tank would not have to be built. Turner said a school would not interfere with future industry.

 "My thought would be that the school would be isolated enough from industry that it would work. Industry is a pretty broad term, we’re not looking at massive chemical plants or anything," Turner said. "We’re looking at light manufacturing, office uses, there is a dearth of office campus space (in the county). Small incubator-type spaces for start-up businesses. We could co-locate several of those in this area."

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