By Stefanie Jackson – Exmore received an offer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development on Dec. 16 for a $6.3 million grant and $3.2 million loan that, if combined with other grant and loan offers the town has received, would fully fund its approximately $15.5 million sewer project.
The Exmore Town Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday night on the USDA funding to approve the offer – essentially reserving the funds for Exmore if it decides to accept them in the near future.
Following the unanimous vote, Councilman G.W. Adkins thanked Town Manager Robert Duer for his work on the project. “I want to thank you for you and your staff, this handling all this money, and getting these grants, and your diligence in doing that,” he said.
Exmore also has received an offer from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for a $1.8 million grant and $4.2 million loan that would fill in the sewer project’s funding gap.
Duer’s work on the sewer project is not yet complete, however, as Exmore’s loan offers total $7.4 million and the town cannot afford to borrow more than $5 million.
But the USDA offer puts Exmore “a lot closer” to its funding goal, Duer said.
The town has $2 million in cash it can contribute to the cost of the sewer project, but Duer is optimistic that Exmore may acquire additional grant funding and save at least some of its cash.
If Exmore accepts the USDA funding, the town will be subject to several requirements, including:
- The Town Council must pass an ordinance requiring all Exmore homes and other properties to connect to the sewer system.
- The Town Council must pass an ordinance establishing a maintenance agreement for all users.
- The Town Council must pass an ordinance establishing sewer rates.
- The town budget must show that the sewer system is profitable and sustainable.
- The sewer system must be audited annually.
- Easements must be obtained for the more than 800 properties that connect to the sewer system.
- The town must spend borrowed money before grant funding.
- The town must obtain short-term financing to the cover the cost of the sewer system until the USDA funding is received.
- The town must set aside at least $101,000, the equivalent of one year of payments on the debt.
- The town must hire a qualified inspector to monitor daily activities during construction.
Another challenge also remains: Exmore does not have adequate staff on hand to help manage the sewer project, Duer said. Neither he nor Town Clerk Ethel Parks has time to take on the responsibility of the “huge project” alone.
Duer said there are two qualified candidates to replace Parks, who is planning to retire, and he asked the Town Council for its consent to hire both applicants so Exmore has additional staff to help the town manager and clerk while the sewer project is ongoing.
Both of the new hires will be trained by Parks and one will become the town clerk; no Town Council member objected to Duer’s request.
Exmore has planned a “tremendous project,” with about 80,000 feet of pipe to be installed, Duer said. The town’s entire wastewater collection system will be replaced and expanded.
The sewer project will take about 15 to 18 months to complete, and then Exmore will be relieved of a Virginia Department of Health consent order that currently limits the town to 350 sewer customers. With every home and business in town connected, Exmore will serve at least 900 sewer customers.
The town’s existing wastewater treatment plant will be decommissioned, as it will no longer be needed. Exmore’s wastewater will be transported by a Hampton Roads Sanitation District force main to Onancock’s treatment plant, which has excess capacity.
Exmore is preparing to spend about $15 million in 15 months, more than the town has spent during Duer’s eight years as town manager.
He and the Town Council admitted that the sewer project is costly but agreed, “It’s got to be done.”
“This is a major thing for the town of Exmore. It’s our future,” Adkins said.