The Town of Hillsborough has started construction to expand the West Fork Eno River Reservoir. The $16 million project will increase the reservoir's capacity from 1.8 million gallons of water to three million, and will shut down three roads over the course of two years.
The current expansion is Phase 2 of a long-term project started in 1997 that began with the creation of the reservoir. The Army Corps of Engineers issued the town a permit for the two phases in 1997, with a deadline in 2018. Construction began March 19, meeting the deadline.
Extra water is not currently needed, but the town wanted to meet the 2018 deadline. Hillsborough Town Manager Eric Peterson said. If the permit was allowed to run out, the costs of Phase 2 would have increased by several million dollars due to new requirements.
Hillsborough Utilities Director Nathan Cates said the expansion of the reservoir is not just about meeting a deadline, but also ensuring that the town has enough water to withstand droughts.
In 2007, the Triangle experienced a severe drought that left most towns — except for Hillsborough — under tight water restrictions. Durham had around 30 days left in their water supply and Raleigh was down to about 70 days, while Hillsborough still had close to 200 days, Cates said.
Without the creation of the reservoir 10 years prior, Hillsborough would have been in worse conditions than Durham and Raleigh.
“This project is going to cost a lot of money, but in a drought situation, this expansion and the reservoir are what’s going to keep the Town of Hillsborough running,” Cates said.
If the 2007 drought was to happen after Phase 2, Hillsborough would have close to a year’s supply of water, Cates said.
The project also includes raising three roads near the reservoir: Efland-Cedar Grove, Carr Store and Mill Creek Road. Peterson said the construction on each road will be staggered so residents are still able to access routes. Reservoir construction is projected to last for a year, and road construction is expected to last for two years, he said.
Construction on Efland-Cedar Grove Road is scheduled to begin on April 2. The town has partnered with the Department of Transportation to raise the road and straighten it out. A sharp curve in the road has caused many accidents, some of which were fatal, according to Cates. Thalle Construction Company won the bid last September for the expansion project.
The bid was about 20 to 25 percent higher than town engineers projected, but the town decided to continue with the project. The bid was benchmarked and determined to be a fair market price, Peterson said.
Mayor Tom Stevens oversaw the process of Phase 2, along with the Board of Commissioners. The BOCC has approved the entire process.
The Town of Hillsborough will begin selling revenue bonds on May 9 to pay for Phase 2, Peterson said. Residents of Hillsborough will be ensuring their return from the bond each time they pay water and sewer fees.
Because of the small population and the security of the reservoir, Hillsborough residents pay a relatively high water and sewer fee. The town expects to pay an additional $8 million in interest on the bonds.
“Water is getting to be a very expensive and a precious commodity worldwide, so what we’re experiencing is not particularly unique,” Stevens said.
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