According to Patricia Cabe of the Golden LEAF Foundation, Richmond County government received the green light from the county’s Golden LEAF steering committee to pursue $1 million in funding for the Ellerbe-Richmond County-Rockingham Wastewater Regionalization Initiative.
“This was the best-received project the group saw,” said Jim Perry of the Lumber River Council of Governments, who discussed future planning for the initiative at Monday’s meeting. “In terms of economic development and jobs, that’s where your project stood head and shoulders above the rest.”
The project entails running a sewer line along the US Hwy 220 corridor from the Ellerbe area to the City of Rockingham’s wastewater treatment plant. Councilman Jerry Meacham, one of the town’s two Golden LEAF steering committee designees, said this project is right in line with the foundation’s goal of “moving the needle” in areas where funding is received.
“Everyone on the committee agreed that this project is the most important one in Richmond County as far as what it will do for the county as a whole,” said Meacham. “Where there’s sewer and water (service), there’s going to be growth. By opening up the corridor from Ellerbe to Rockingham, you’re opening it up for new business development and for communities to be built. This is about making something happen for the county that 10 years from now you could come in and measure.”
That project was one of the three authorized by the committee to apply for Golden LEAF funding. The City of Rockingham will apply for $665,000 to make sewer improvements in East Rockingham - an urgent matter that has become a public health concern. Richmond Community College will apply for $500,000 for the renovation of and additions to the Forte building - which is designed to make the local workforce more attractive to business through increased math, science, technology and engineering training. Ellerbe’s project received priority for a number of reasons.
“All of us have ridden down interstate highways and see development along certain exit areas; then you ride down three or four exits and there’s no development,” said Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin on Tuesday. “Think about hotels and restaurants. They have to have water and sewer access. The land is just one component.”
When Ellerbe’s current lagoon treatment process is no longer necessary, town residents will become City of Rockingham wastewater customers.
“Our city council has made a major investment in Rockingham’s wastewater treatment plant over the last 15 to 20 years,” said McLaurin. “We have the capacity to handle additional treatment; this will allow us to assist Ellerbe and the northern part of the county, and we call all work together to spur economic development in Ellerbe and around the corridor.”
The top three project grant requests total more than the $2 million in Golden LEAF funding slated for the county.
“The money has not been granted,” said Richmond Community College President Shannon Morrissey. “Each one of the three (authorized applicants) has to write a Golden LEAF application, send it in (by the mid-July deadline) and then go meet with the foundation board to explain and defend their projects.”
The foundation will decide what receives funding and what requests need to be reduced or accommodated.
“The steering committee worked diligently and had a very difficult task before them,” said Cabe. “With a reserve of up to $2 million in Golden LEAF funds for Richmond County projects, the steering committee had to consider 16 projects requesting over $13 million.”
No 501c3 organizations will be able to request funding.
“The Golden LEAF Board respects the work and time that communities invest in this process and gives a good deal of weight to the community’s selection of priority projects,” said Cabe. “That being said, the Golden LEAF Board is ultimately accountable for being good stewards of the grant funds. They will review each project thoroughly before making a final decision.”
Ellerbe Town Council has scheduled a meeting for May 18 at 7 p.m. to discuss plans for the wastewater project with Perry and other officials.