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The original item was published from 8/17/2015 8:36:00 AM to 8/17/2015 8:36:35 AM.

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Posted on: August 17, 2015

[ARCHIVED] StarNews Editorial: "CFPUA Work is Paying Off"

Editorial - CFPUA work is paying off
The StarNews Editorial Board
Published: Saturday, August 15, 2015 at 10:00 p.m.
While one might fall short of gushing over a recent report by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, we’re happy to say that, so far, it appears to pass the smell test.

A cascade of sewage spills both large and small in the mid-2000s was an embarrassment to Wilmington, New Hanover County and the state as a whole. It put a spotlight on how area growth had overwhelmed the capacity of infrastructure installed years earlier. To make matters worse, many of the spills were in ecologically sensitive marshes and tidal creeks.

The incidents included a 2005 failure at the Hewletts Creek pump station, spilling 3 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the water. The city was fined more than $50,000 because of the severity of the spill.

As StarNews staff writer Julian March reported, flush-with-excitement CFPUA officials released numbers this past week showing a big drop in both reportable sewage spills and, perhaps more significant, the overall volume spilled since the authority was formed in 2008 by the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County.

Authority executive director Jim Flechtner credited forward-thinking maintenance and pipe refurbishment programs with contributing to the reduction.

Between January 2003 and June 2008, 166 state-reportable sewer overflows occurred, spilling 11.33 million gallons, according to numbers CFPUA released Tuesday.

During a five-year period between July 2010 and June 2015, the number of reportable sewer spills was 80 and the total amount spilled fell to 2.61 million gallons.

Comparing the two periods, the CFPUA cut the number of overflows by 52 percent and the volume spilled by 77 percent, according to a news release.

“With infrastructure, the work is never done," stated Pat Kusek, the authority's board chairwoman. "However, these numbers clearly show we have made noteworthy progress in delivering upon the mission we were given – to dramatically improve our sewer system.”

That’s a message that the public expects the utility’s board to take to heart. After all, CFPUA was created, in part, to address significant issues that local municipalities had not been able to successfully tackle.

Authority spokesman Mike McGill said aging infrastructure is always a leading cause of sewage spills, though other issues contribute, such as grease backups, infiltration from tree roots and power failures.

CFPUA has stumbled some and drew the ire of the public over billing problems and rate increases, but the rough waters seem to have calmed.

Instead of reacting to crisis after crisis, the authority now seems to be in a position to be proactive and stay out in front of potential problems.

This relatively young agency still has room for improvement, but the situation is markedly better than it was 10 years ago.

The CFPUA board and employees should be commended for their work.

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