WILMINGTON — When controversial development plans spring up in a neighborhood, many adjoining property owners often react with the “not in my backyard” approach.
But that’s not the case for the family who owns the land at 8006 Masonboro Sound Rd. off Seabreeze Boulevard, where Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is set to begin work this month on a pump station that will allow public sewer system extension to the area.
“That’s where we want it is in our backyard, and they just won’t do it,” said Jack McPhail, the son of the late Clara Fales, who owns the land with two of his sisters. He lives in California but grew up on the land.
Instead, the pump station is going on what amounts to a small piece of the parcel’s front yard, McPhail said. But the view is not the major problem, he added.
He’d like to see the site, which is about 60 feet by 50 feet, moved back about 100 to 150 feet because he said that land is about four feet higher in elevation and would offer more protection against flooding from the nearby Intracoastal Waterway.
“Where they’re putting it is an area that, according to my grandmother through my father, was inundated with stormwater during a major hurricane in the 1890s,” said McPhail, whose family has owned the land since 1883. “We just don’t like this specific location, and they could cooperate with us. I’ve always maintained we need sewer down there. We have never objected to there being sewer there. We’ve always objected to the location.”
Despite the pleas, a now-closed online petition, a paper petition and a “Masonboro Sound Ecosystem Support Network” Facebook page set up by McPhail’s niece, Joyce Bowden, to raise awareness to the opposition effort, there doesn’t seem to be much recourse left for the family, who has been fighting the location since the inception of the Masonboro Sound Service Extension project in 2001. The utility has condemned the property through eminent domain while negotiations over its fair market value continue and are expected to go to court early next year.
“I don’t feel like there’s hope at all,” McPhail said. “I don’t believe in miracles any longer.”
Mike McGill, a utility spokesman, said officials have looked at four nearby alternatives and deemed this specific location to be the “most feasible and most constructible” option for the 36,000-gallon-per-day pump station.
“It’s a public health and environmental protection project,” he said. “We’re going to get those people out there off of septic.”
A recent utility press release reads: “As noted during prior public discussions, the groundwater table in the area is at a high level, placing the septic systems operated by owners at particular risk of having them fail, flood or simply leach out their waste into the surrounding soils and waterways.”
McGill elaborated: “It’s during a flooding event where this pump station is far superior to having these people on septic. The pump station will have redundancy built in to keep it pumping through flooding while septic systems will be completely inundated and leach directly into the sound.”
The utility has reached out to the community with two public information sessions, the most recent of which was Oct. 3, to explain the project to those most affected by it. About 70 people attend the last gathering, held on the heels of the authority’s unanimous vote to approve a $2.5 million construction contract, McGill said.
The presentation stated that the pump station will be built as far west as the land allows and that other changes have been incorporated as a result of community input over the years.
The pump station’s footprint is small, similar in size to one near the intersection of South College Road and New Centre Drive, McGill added.
“It’s wrapped around with landscaping and you can hardly see it,” he said.
The project came about as a result of the area’s 1998 annexation by Wilmington. Plans for water and sewer extension emerged in 2001, and the utility took over the effort after its formation in 2008 to combine the water and sewer operations of the city and New Hanover County.
After the pump station construction, which starts within the next few weeks, water and sewer lines will be extended along Seabreeze Boulevard. The second stage involves installing sewer lines in Oyster Bay, Windchase and Whiskey Creek neighborhoods beginning shortly after Jan. 1. The third and final stage calls for putting sewer and water lines north along Masonboro Sound Road, with estimated completion next summer.
Bowden said she worries that because the project has been ongoing for more than a decade, the utility is not seeking the most up-to-date infrastructure options for the neighborhood.
“There are solutions that would work better than what CFPUA has in mind, better solutions that weren’t there when they came up with the idea,” she said. “I feel like it will be obsolete in a couple of years. I think it’s not going to serve the environment. I don’t think it’s going to serve the people either.
“We want them to stop, look and listen, do some research, listen to the various neighbors and try to individualize their solutions in small community ways,” Bowden added. “I don’t want to fight anybody because it’s too much stress. I would just like for them to shift their perspective. I just hope that they will open their minds to other possibilities.”
McPhail said he is not optimistic.
“It’s like moving a mountain,” he said. “They have made up their mind.”