Keep eyeing the target

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A University of Mount Olive student took time to explore the downtown district last week and asked me “why isn’t there more here?”

Though the comment certainly didn’t fall on deaf ears, I had no true response to offer.

I know two local property owners who are chomping at the bit to sell their land – a combined 5 acres on NC Highway 55 West across from Walmart. One was contacted by an urgent care facility, but they explained that their hands were currently tied.

East Carolina University physicians with the Brody School of Medicine are interested in leasing nearly 3,000 square feet of space within the town limits.

Yet, no one can move forward.

The reason?

Mount Olive is currently under a state-mandated moratorium that has stunted its business and residential growth.

It’s become a dirty four-letter word.

As my co-worker William Holloman explained a little bit in his column this week, town officials are meeting with state legislators to find funding to repair an antiquated sewer system.

The biggest concern lies within the town’s wastewater treatment facility. The inflow and infiltration system gets overwhelmed during heavy rainfall and the excess water has nowhere to go. Raw sewage spills are usually the outcome and flow into the nearby headwaters of the Northeast Cape Fear River.

Those spills, no matter the size, have to be reported to state authorities.

And more often than not, those spills result in fines.

At first, the price tag for repair work inside the facility was less than $2 million. The estimate has grown significantly due to supply and demand of materials, and other factors.

A project that should have been completed within a year may take longer.

Where do we get the money?

The town’s newly-appointed grant committee continues to sift through every possibility to rectify a problem that’s plagued this community for nearly half a century.

They, like the town’s residents, want the distressed system repaired.

The town’s engineer is working on a grant application with the NC Department of

Environmental Quality (DEQ). Paperwork must be submitted by May 2 – which is less than two months away.

Additional funding is available, according to state legislators Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne) and US Sen. Thom Tillis. They understand it’s a project that takes priority and needs resolving immediately.

Known for its agricultural history, this sleepy little town undoubtedly needs help to survive in the future. New businesses and residential properties improve Mount Olive’s tax base.

As one commissioner said, “We keep moving closer to the targets, so bear with us.”

Let’s hope the bullseye is hit soon.

Rudy Coggins is assistant editor of the Mount Olive Tribune. He can be reached at rcoggins@mountolivetribune.com.

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