July 22, 2021 (This is not a faith column.)
If you’ve ever watched a few episodes of any HGTV renovation show, you know the letdown it is when the homeowners have to spend a big chunk of their budget on previously unknown problems with their HVAC, pipes or roof. We prefer to spend money on improvements we can see. So it goes with local, state and national budgets. Replacing sewer lines or making sure potholes are properly addressed are costly but practical measures. They are wise investments which are not typically flashy or fun. The good news is that there are grants available to help with infrastructure projects. The bad news is these grants are not without limits, otherwise every road in Pitt County and beyond would be smooth.
Infrastructure sewer projects are especially involved. Fortunately, there are countless experts in the field who know how to deal with aging infrastructure. Before a municipality can put out a sewer project for bids, engineers complete thorough surveys. They determine the exact depths of the pipes to be replaced, for example. A way to find the depth is to open a manhole and discover where the pipe enters the manhole. This is the depth. It is recorded and the engineer can move on to the next manhole and the next and the next. This way, there are no surprises as to the depth of the pipes. Experts do their homework in advance of the bidding process.
These experts also know the industry standards for the job. The NC Department of Transportation has standard specifications for roads and structures as do counties and municipalities. A contractor doesn’t just decide to put stone under a road, for example. It is done because there is an industry standard, and it is required.
When a contractor/company gives a project timeline for an outdoor job, they always account for foul weather. They understand that it will rain. Determining how many weather days to build into the schedule is not an exact science, but reasonable expectations are calculated. On a large project with unforeseen weather problems their predictions could be off by a few weeks.
In the fall of 2018, the Town of Farmville decided to apply for $2M in Community Development Block Grants to replace old sanitary sewer lines. A grant of $1,625,000 was received from the Division of Water Infrastructure. In August of 2020 the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to award the contract to Jones and Smith Contractors, LLC, the low bidder. This Ayden, NC LLC bid $969,365.
At the November 2020 Town Board meeting an engineer in town suggested to increase the scope of this Basin 5 Sanitary Sewer Project with additional sewer collection replacement on Moore St., Barrett St. and Pittman Alley, since the low bid came in well under budget. There is no suggestion that any of this grant money was spent on any other project. Obviously, that is not allowed.
As of July 22, 2021 the sewer project on Walnut, Cotton, Zeno, George, etc. has resulted in several streets that have been torn up for well over seven months. Residents of these neighborhoods have complained of ruined tires and their vehicles needing realignments. They wonder why smaller sections of roads were not torn up, pipes replaced and the surfaces smoothed out before moving on to work on the next section. They are asking why they have not been kept informed during each step of this process. Of course, it is wonderful to replace aging infrastructure. Most of us understand reasonable delays. It seems that Farmville residents most affected have not been included in communications and their concerns about parking, driving, deliveries and accessibility for first responders have fallen on deaf ears for six months or more. Would this project have been handled the same way in every neighborhood in Farmville?
Attached is the Town of Farmville Budget Retreat Agenda from February 22-23, 2021. It contains a lot of useful information as well as photographs. See pages 21-41 for Storm Drainage Projects, 42-69 for Water System Improvements and 70-95 for Sanitary Sewer Projects.