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Posted on: September 11, 2019

CFPUA board approves construction contract, bond sale for GAC filters

Sweeney New GAC Contactors - NORTHEAST PERSPECTIVE Cutaway

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board on Wednesday awarded a $35.9 million construction contract to Adams-Robinson Enterprises Inc. for a project to add eight new deep-bed granular activated carbon (GAC) filters at Sweeney Water Treatment Plant to address PFAS in water sourced from the Cape Fear River.

The board also approved the sale of 25-year revenue bonds, estimated to total $107.3 million. Of the amount received from the sale, $43 million will fund the Sweeney treatment enhancements project. This amount includes a $3 million contract with Black & Veatch for construction-phase support related to the project.

All of the above items were approved unanimously by the Board.

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

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 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.

Construction on the treatment enhancements will begin 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. 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 still remember a meeting on June 15, 2017, the one and only time representatives from Chemours came to Wilmington to meet with local leaders,” Board Chairman William Norris said. “At that meeting, Chemours told our community they and DuPont had been discharging PFAS into the Cape Fear River for almost four decades.

“In the two years since then, staff at CFPUA have worked with state and federal regulators and nationally recognized experts to understand the impacts on our water treatment processes, identify the most-effective treatment option, and develop a plan to significantly reduce the level of PFAS in our drinking water,” Norris said. “Our vote today sets that plan in motion.”

The bid by Adams-Robinson for construction of the Sweeney enhancement project was the lowest of the three bids submitted.

The video below explains more about the Sweeney enhancement project. CFPUA will be providing updates at key stages in the project on our website and Facebook and Twitter pages.

Repaying bondholders will result in a total increase, beginning in July 2020, of $5.57 per bimonthly bill for the average CFPUA residential customer. That includes $4.42 for the Sweeney project and $1.58 for the second raw water line, as well as a savings of $0.43 resulting from the refinance of prior debt.

Learn more about the Sweeney Treatment Enhancements Project

To reduce PFAS compounds in the interim before the enhancements come online, CFPUA staff has implemented a program to replace media in existing filters at Sweeney. These interim steps have resulted in some reductions but are unsuited as a long-term solution. At its August meeting, the CFPUA board approved a $2.5 million contract to continue media replacement in the existing filters until the new deep-bed contactors become operational.

The PFAS that continues to be detected CFPUA’s regular monitoring results largely because of decades of releases into the river by Chemours and DuPont, who have operated a chemical manufacturing plant upriver from Wilmington.

CFPUA has filed a federal lawsuit against Chemours and DuPont to recover costs and damages. Although the outcome of this lawsuit remains uncertain, a plan under consideration would place any monetary award to CFPUA in a trust to fully or partially fund payoff of the bonds, which would allow CFPUA to reduce customers’ rates proportionately.

“CFPUA already has spent more than $8 million to address Chemours’ and DuPont’s PFAS in our community’s drinking water supply,” said Jim Flechtner, CFPUA Executive Director. “To date, those funds have come from CFPUA ratepayers, along with $635,000 grant from the State.  Chemours and DuPont have paid none of those costs. They have not even offered to pay.

“These companies have an obligation to do more than simply attempt to prevent it from happening again," Mr. Flechtner said. "They need to pay to fix the damage.”

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