County Hopes Utility Extension Saves Pines Plaza

OCEAN PINES — To combat “stagnation,” the Worcester County Commissioners will look to extend county water and sewer services into the Pines Plaza area.

The general consensus was that the project should act as an economic booster shot to a struggling location. However, some on the commission worried about how the county will recoup its initial investment into the project, which is estimated to be about $500,000.

Public Works Director John Tustin asked the commissioners Tuesday for permission to seek bids for the water and sewer extension.

“There is no funding for this project at this point,” he said. “We would like to get the bids out and get the prices and then come back before you.”

The current $500,000 figure is only a ballpark guess, according to Tustin.

Once bids are collected, the county will consider moving ahead with the installation of 1,600 linear feet of gravity sewer and 2,300 linear feet of eight-inch waterline to the Pines Plaza. The project will generate 120 new EDUs. Extending the service to the plaza will hopefully spur growth, said Tustin, adding that the project cannot realistically happen without county involvement.

“Without the county building the project, it is not going to happen. You know that the Pines Plaza has been sitting there for years barely going,” he said. “We need to do something to spur the economic development in that area and water and sewer facilities will do that.”

Commissioner Virgil Shockley questioned how the project will play out financially. With all of the businesses that the extension will serve, Shockley wondered why the onus was on the county to pay for the entire up-front cost.

“Nobody wants to ante up to begin with?” he asked.

Businesses in the plaza aren’t individually large enough to lead the charge for the extension, answered County Attorney Sonny Bloxom. Tustin agreed that there’s hesitation for any single business to put money on the line first without knowing all of the costs, an opinion shared by Commissioner Judy Boggs.

Boggs, who represents Ocean Pines, also underlined how necessary the project is, stating that the plaza is in desperate need of a jumpstart.

“Nobody wants to start it. And [Pines Plaza] is more than just lying there dormant,” she said. “It’s a blight now on the area.”

Because the Pines Plaza is heading toward a pending sale/auction, Tustin noted the amount of attention focused on the area. He felt that it’s important to get the ball rolling on extending services. Shockley clarified that he is not opposed to moving forward with the project but wanted to make sure that, if the county picks up the initial bill, there’s some mechanism in place to recover the funds.

“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t. I’m not saying that we initially shouldn’t,” Shockley said. “I just want to know when the pay back is coming.”

Businesses that attach to the provided water and sewer will be paying for it and that money should eventually cover the start-up costs that the county will absorb, replied Tustin.

“We will be charging them for the EDUs when they hook-up,” he said.

The figures he quoted to the commission Tuesday were $11,417 per EDU for sewer and $3,000 per EDU for water. The schedule on how businesses will pay that is something that the commission can set later, said Tustin. In a memo to the commission, he also stressed that exact costs will not be known until “bids are in hand.”

The commission voted unanimously to grant Tustin permission to move forward to collect bids and then return to the commission.