County commissioners have asked for more information by their Sept. 26 meeting so they may decide whether to commit sewage treatment services to the proposed 751 South development, a large project planned for almost 170 acres near Jordan Lake.

An engineer for Southern Durham Development has asked commissioners to allow the development to connect to county pipelines and send up to 600,000 gallons per day of wastewater to the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant on N.C. 55. The developer’s request comes to the county a month after Durham’s City Council postponed any decision to provide utilities to the development until a pending lawsuit is resolved.

The 751 South project has been marked with controversy since it was first proposed in 2006, and the process has resulted in three lawsuits and several delays. (See a timeline) The developer has worked with the city since December to have the land annexed, or at least get guaranteed utility services, to no avail. From the comments of engineer Dan Jewell, who represents Southern Durham Development, the developer is now even considering using well water for the dense development, which could include a combination of 1,300 homes, condos and apartments, a shopping center, offices and community spaces.

Contrary to popular misconception, Jewell told commissioners, existing water and sewer lines are not far from the 751 South site, which is just north of the Chatham County line. But the 751 South site is also outside of the designated area the county is supposed to serve through the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant, said County Manager Mike Ruffin. The proposed development actually falls into the city’s jurisdiction, per a 1972 agreement between the city and county.

“This treatment plant has a natural service area,” Ruffin said. “You could be entering into the city’s service area … so it raises implications of policy with this board,” Ruffin told the commissioners.

If the county agrees to provide sewer services to the development, the decision could take away revenue from the city. The treatment plant was built in the 1960s and serves some business and industry in Research Triangle Park, as well as those in Cary.

Wastewater from Cary homes and businesses has been temporarily routed to Durham’s plant while a Wake County plant undergoes renovations, Whisler said. With the wastewater from Cary, the plant currently has the capacity to treat another 1 million gallons of wastewater per day. Depending on when Cary chooses to ends its temporary contract with Durham, the capacity could increase by 5 million or 6 million gallons per day by 2015.

Through its agreement with Cary, Durham County is helping to pay for $42 million in renovations to the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant completed five years ago. Anyone who purchases sewer services from the county must pay for that capacity.

Jewell said his client was simply wanted an agreement form the county to reserve 600,000 gallons per day for the development.

“There is no allocation reservation process except through the payment of fees,” Whisler told the commissioners. Typically, Whisler said, customers or developers pay those fees once their development plans have been approved and they’re closer to actually connecting to the system. Whisler estimated that if the county agreed to provide sewer services, the developer would have to pay about $2 million just to reserve the capacity.

Ruffin said he hoped to have feedback from the city by the commissioners’ meeting on Sept. 26, and the public may comment on the idea at that meeting. Commissioners could vote then or at their following meeting Oct. 3, but board Chairman Michael Page said he would like the board to decide soon.

Commissioner Joe Bowser said he wanted to grant the sewer capacity because it would help the project move forward.

“I want to see this project built out,” Bowser said. “First, our people need jobs, and second, we need to do something about our tax base in this community.” He commented, too, that if the county considered providing sewer services, city leaders might reconsider their postponement of a decision on utilities. If the city offered water and sewer services to 751 South, it could charge double rates because the property is outside the city limits. The revenue could be profitable to the city’s utility funds, but that revenue would not benefit the city’s general budget.

When and if county commissioners decide whether to grant the sewer capacity to Southern Durham Development, it’s clear the company would have the support of the majority of commissioners. Page, Bowser and Commissioner Brenda Howerton have all supported the project in the past, and voted last year to grant a zoning change that would allow the dense development in a rural portion of the county. Commissioners Becky Heron, who recently resigned due to health problems, and Ellen Reckhow, opposed the development due to concerns including the potential pollution to nearby Jordan Lake, a drinking water source for thousands of residents.