NC DEQ issues permit to keep contaminants out of the Cape Fear River and reduce downstream impacts

RALEIGH – The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued a permit for a water treatment system at the Chemours Fayetteville Works site to remove PFAS from a contaminated stream that currently flows into the Cape Fear River. To reduce impacts on downstream communities, the system is required to remove at least 99% of PFAS from the stream. According to the 2019 Consent Order between DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch and Chemours, the treatment system must be operational by September 30, 2020.

This permit does not apply to process wastewater, which Chemours is prohibited from discharging and has been prohibited from discharging since 2017. The treatment system is designed to remove PFAS from the stream referred to as Old Outfall 002 that carries PFAS from residual contamination at the site, including groundwater that flows from under the facility and through contaminated soil, into the Cape Fear River.

The permit requires testing of the influent and effluent to verify at least 99% percent removal efficiency, in addition to specific discharge limits. Based on public input, the final permit was adjusted to clarify that filter backwash from the treatment system must be collected and treated before discharge. Additional information on the permit is provided in the response to comments document posted with the final permit and fact sheet here.

“The treatment system will immediately reduce the amount of PFAS contamination reaching downstream communities,” said Assistant Secretary for the Environment Sheila Holman. “When combined with the measures required in the proposed Addendum to the Consent Order, communities along the Cape Fear River will continue to see additional PFAS reductions at their water intakes as each step is implemented in the months ahead.”

Since 2017, DEQ actions and the Consent Order have stopped the discharge of process wastewater to the Cape Fear River, identified and reduced air emissions by more than 99% and initiated groundwater remediation efforts. This treatment system permit is one of several measures in the Consent Order and proposed Addendum to address residual contamination and reduce PFAS pollution impacts to the Cape Fear River and downstream communities on an expedited basis. For instance, the proposed Addendum requires Chemours to install treatment systems to treat contaminated water flowing from under the facility through four surface water bodies, sometimes called “Seeps,” to the Cape Fear River. The schedule in the proposed Addendum requires installation of the first treatment system by November 16, 2020 and installation of the final treatment system by April 5, 2021.

Documents related to the Consent Order, including the proposed addendum are available online at: https://deq.nc.gov/ChemoursConsentOrder.

Public Schools now able to implement Plan A for elementary schools

RALEIGH: After several weeks of stable COVID-19 trends and continued low virus spread in school settings, Governor Roy Cooper today announced that beginning on October 5, North Carolina public school districts and charter schools can choose to implement Plan A for elementary schools (grades K-5). Plan A continues to include important safety measures like face coverings for all students, teachers and staff, social distancing, and symptom screening, but does not require schools to reduce the number of children in the classroom.

“We are able to open this option because most North Carolinians have doubled down on our safety and prevention measures and stabilized our numbers,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “North Carolinians are doing the hard work to improve our numbers and trends. Many people are wearing masks, keeping social distance and being careful to protect others as well as themselves. We have shown that listening to the science works. And I’m proud of our resolve.”

As the Governor announced in July, every district will continue to have flexibility to select Plan A, B or C based on their unique needs. In addition, districts should still provide an option for families to select all remote learning for their students. Read the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit to learn more about the requirements under each plan.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shared an update on North Carolina’s data trends. Dr. Cohen explained that North Carolina has seen a sustained leveling or decrease of key metrics.

“Our trends show that we are on the right track. It’s up to all of us to protect our progress. Our individual actions like those 3 Ws will help keep our school doors open.,” said Secretary Cohen.
Dr. Cohen also explained that as schools have opened, the current science shows that younger children are less likely to become infected, have symptoms, experience severe disease or spread the virus.

“It’s great news today that we are a step closer to providing the option of in-person learning to families who want their children to return to school,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson. “While the Governor, the State Board of Education, and I have our differences, I join with them today to encourage local school board members to take advantage of this change and open all schools safely. I thank the many parents and teachers across North Carolina who have been vocal advocates on this important issue.”

“For the past 6 months, superintendents, principals, teachers and local BOE have worked diligently to care for the safety of our students and staff while educating our children. While we are anxious to return all students, we know that teachers, principals, and students need a gradual transition over the next 3 months. I ask our parents to remain patient, knowing that we are moving as quickly as is safely possible. And I ask our teachers to continue to assist our students by supporting this deliberate, thoughtful transition,” said Eric Davis, Chairman of the State Board of Education.

Trajectory in COVID-Like Illness (CLI) Surveillance Over 14 Days
• North Carolina’s syndromic surveillance trend for COVID-like illness is declining.

Trajectory of Confirmed Cases Over 14 Days
• North Carolina’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases is declining.

Trajectory in Percent of Tests Returning Positive Over 14 Days
• North Carolina’s trajectory in percent of tests returning positive is declining.

Trajectory in Hospitalizations Over 14 Days
• North Carolina’s trajectory of hospitalizations is declining.

In addition to these metrics, the state continues building capacity to be able to adequately respond to an increase in virus spread. These areas include:

Laboratory Testing
• Access to testing has expanded. No-cost testing events are being deployed across the state and testing turnaround times have improved.

Tracing Capability
• Contact tracers continue to be hired to bolster the efforts of local health departments. A new exposure notification app will be launched soon.

Personal Protective Equipment
• Personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are stable

North Carolina education leaders gave statements in support of Governor Cooper’s announcement.

Mark Johnson, Superintendent of NC Department of Public Instruction: “It’s great news today that we are a step closer to providing the option of in-person learning to families who want their children to return to school. While the Governor, the State Board of Education, and I have our differences, I join with them today to encourage local school board members to take advantage of this change and open all schools safely. I thank the many parents and teachers across North Carolina who have been vocal advocates on this important issue.”

Eric Davis, Chair of NC State Board of Education: “For the past 6 months, superintendents, principals, teachers and local BOE have worked diligently to care for the safety of our students and staff while educating our children. While we are anxious to return all students, we know that teachers, principals, and students need a gradual transition over the next 3 months. I ask our parents to main patient, knowing that we are moving as quickly as is safely possible. And I ask our teachers to continue to assist our students by supporting this deliberate, thoughtful transition.”

 

Pender County Utilities Lifts Stage 1 Voluntary Water Restrictions

BURGAW – Today Pender County Utilities (PCU) lifted the voluntary water restrictions issued May 14 for Hampstead and Scotts Hill, including the neighborhoods of Avendale, Cross Creek and Harrison Cove, as well as Island Creek Road and the neighborhoods of Wylie Branch and the Reserve at Island Creek.

“Pender County Utilities water customers in these areas are no longer under the voluntary water restrictions,” said Kenny Keel, Pender County Utilities director.

Pender County Utilities improved the system by installing new equipment to supplement the county water supply from Wallace as well as adjusted the county’s pumping station and valves that maximized the current system. Additionally, one new Hampstead water well has become operational, and a second well is under construction and will be running by January.

“While the restrictions are lifted, we urge all Pender County water customers to use this natural resource wisely throughout the year,” said Keel.

Keel said customers can practice everyday water conservation by washing only full loads in the laundry and dishwasher, use spring-loaded nozzles on garden hoses, identify and repair water leaks, and refrain from leaving faucets running while shaving or while rinsing dishes.

“All of us want to be good stewards of our natural resources, including our water,” said Keel. “Being conscientious of our water consumption will result in lower water bills.”

For more information regarding the lifting of the Stage 1 Voluntary Water Restrictions, call PCU at 910-259-1570.

Live Healthy, save on healthcare expenses

Pender County is a member of National Association of Counties, known as NACo. Through this national organization, Pender County Health and Human Social Services offers a program called Live Healthy.

The Live Healthy Discount Program is provided to you in a joint effort by participating county, parish and borough governments, and the National Association of Counties (NACo). It offers savings on prescriptions and services to support individuals and families. Learn more about the benefits of the program below.

No-cost Prescription Discounts
Use your prescription discount card for discounts at over 66,000 pharmacies at home and across the country.
Simple present your discount card at a participating retain pharmacy along with your prescription(s), and save an average of 24 percent of you prescription drugs.

Print a Live Healthy Discount card here or you can pick one up at a variety of local government and community locations.

Low-cost Health Discounts
Health discounts are available for a wide range of services and supplies for one low monthly or annual cost.
Discounts available on vision, hearing, diabetic supplies, lab services and diagnostic imaging, plus telemedicine consults at no additional cost.
Some state specific restrictions may apply to some benefits.

Low-cost Dental Discounts
You can receive dental discounts on a wide range of procedures and services for a low monthly or annual fee. Discounts on check-ups, x-rays, cleanings, dentures, root canals, extractions and more.

MinuteClinic® Discounts
Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are available to administer many services to you including vaccinations, physicals, blood pressure screenings and more.

Wesley Stewart, director of the department of social services, said Pender County’s health and human services won a 2010 NACo national award for offering this cost-saving program.

For more details, click here.

Reminder: State seeks feedback on Chemours Consent Order Addendum, Comment Period open through Thursday

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality seeks public comment on the Addendum to the Consent Order, which requires significant additional actions by Chemours to prevent PFAS pollution from entering the Cape Fear River via contaminated groundwater from the Fayetteville Works Site. Comments will be accepted through Thursday, Sept. 17.

Since 2017, DEQ actions and the Consent Order have stopped the process wastewater discharge from the facility and drastically reduced air emissions of PFAS by 99.9%. The additional actions in the Addendum to the Consent Order between DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch and Chemours will further reduce the PFAS contamination to the Cape Fear River and improve water quality for downstream communities.

Moving forward, Chemours is required to treat four identified ‘seeps’ which account for more than half of the contaminated groundwater reaching the river in two phases.
• The interim measures to filter PFAS at an efficiency of at least 80% from the first of the four seeps will go into effect starting by Mid-November – with all four completed by April 2021.
• The permanent measure is the construction of a subsurface barrier wall approximately 1.5 miles long and groundwater extraction system that will remove at least 99% of PFAS to be completed by March 2023.
Chemours is also required to treat on-site stormwater that is adding residual pollution to the river with a capture and treatment system that must remove at least 99% of PFAS.

Failure to meet the schedules or achieve the removal goals will result in financial penalties, including:
• Failure to meet the construction schedule for the interim measures will result in fines of $5,000 per day for the first 14 days and $10,000/day until construction is complete.
• Failure to meet the barrier wall installation schedule results in a $150,000 fine followed by $20,000 per week until installation is complete.
• Failure to meet the barrier wall’s 95% mass loading goal in the initial demonstration results in a $500,000 fine, with a $100,000 fine for failure to meet any of the four subsequent demonstrations.

Comments on the Addendum will be accepted through September 17. Comments can be submitted electronically to comments.chemours@ncdenr.gov or mailed to Assistant Secretary’s Office, RE: Chemours Public Comments 1601 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1601.

DEQ will consider the public comments before the Addendum is presented for entry by the Bladen County Superior Court. The Addendum is available here.

ATMC awarded USDA ReConnect grant to bring high-speed internet to Pender County

ATMC announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded the cooperative a $21.6 million dollar grant to help fund its ‘Faster Pender’ project which will allow the Shallotte-based company to expand high-speed internet access to over 7,000 addresses in rural Pender County. Gigabit broadband internet access will be made available to 6,853 residential addresses, over 285 businesses, 19 educational facilities, nine healthcare facilities, 15 critical community facilities, and 209 agricultural operations. ATMC will contribute $7.2 million dollars in matching funds to bring the total project investment to $28.9 million.
“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”
In December of 2019, the USDA announced the availability of a second round of funding under the ReConnect Program. Through the ReConnect broadband program, the USDA has over $600 million available for grants, grant/loan combinations, and low-interest loans. Applications for the second round of funding were accepted between January 31, 2020 and April 15, 2020.The funds awarded must be used to cover the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.
“It is a huge honor for ATMC to once again be a recipient ReConnect funding from the USDA,” said Keith Holden, ATMC CEO. “This grant will make a considerable impact in Pender County for many years to come by helping us bring high-speed internet to thousands of residents that have been without it for far too long. We would like to extend our gratitude to the UDSA, Congressman Rouzer, the Pender County Board of Commissioners, and all the residents, farmers, business owners, and community leaders who provided letters of support for the Faster Pender project. That support was key in helping us win this critical funding.”
With a project of this size, there is a great deal of preliminary work that must be done before actual construction can begin. ATMC anticipates construction of the new fiber-optic network to begin during the middle part of 2021 after all necessary program paperwork and environmental studies have been completed.
The network will cover approximately 538 square miles, including underserved communities west of Interstate 40 to the Bladen County line, including Atkinson and Currie, and unserved areas east of Burgaw and Rocky Point. The network will enable the delivery of high-speed internet speeds of up to 1Gigabit per second as well as telephone and home security and automation services.
“Once upon a time it was the interstate system, water and sewer that was key for commerce, and quite frankly today if you don’t have broadband, none of that matters,” commented Congressman David Rouzer. “Broadband is the infrastructure of today and of the future.”
Chairman of the Pender County Board of Commissioners, George Brown, also spoke at Friday’s event saying, “Imagine not being able to use a computer or phone because of a lack of high-speed internet, that’s a reality for many in our county. It’s not about congratulating the folks that made this grant happen, today congratulations are in order for the people of Pender County who will benefit tremendously from this grant.
We are so thankful to Secretary Perdue, Congressman Rouzer and ATMC for this gift they’ve given to Pender County.”
While this will be the first time ATMC has served residents and businesses in Pender County, the cooperative has been serving rural North Carolinians for more than 65 years. ATMC has a great track record of using grant funds to provide high-speed internet to rural areas. In 2010, ATMC received $16 million dollars through a USDA grant to build a fiber-optic network to the unserved communities of Nakina, Guideway, and Old Dock in Columbus County. In May of 2019, ATMC was awarded $1 million dollars in grant funding from the NC GREAT Grant program which is allowing the company to bring fiber-optic service to underserved homes in the Beaverdam community. Last December, ATMC won a $7.9 million dollar grant from the USDA ReConnect Grant program to serve Columbus County residents near Tabor City, Hallsboro, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton, and areas north of Whiteville. And, in the last few weeks, the cooperative announced that it had been awarded $3.7 million dollars from the NC GREAT Grant program to provide fiber optic internet services to approximately 2,600 residents and businesses in rural portions of Columbus, Robeson, and Duplin counties.
For more information about ATMC’s progress on the ReConnect Grant, visit www.fasterpender.com or call 910-754-4311.
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