Published: Nov 21, 2012 12:31 PM
Modified: Nov 21, 2012 12:32 PM
City engineers again recommended converting an abandoned fitness-center site into a stormwater-cleansing wetland Tuesday, but city council members still have some reservations.
“They didn’t say ‘no,’ ” said Assistant Public Works Director Paul Wiebke. City Manager Tom Bonfield said administrators will continue working on the project.
But with concerns about budget and citizens’ objections, the council reserved its go-ahead decision for later.
The nine-acre site collects stormwater runoff from about 485 acres of highly developed land in and near downtown Durham. An engineering study estimated that a constructed wetland there could save city taxpayers from $7 million to $20 million in expenses to comply with the new Falls Lake water-quality regulations.
Without the wetland, the city may need to buy land and build as many as 25 smaller filter sites to achieve the same results, according to engineering estimates.
Besides helping Falls Lake, the primary water source for 450,000 Wake County residents, the wetland would improve water quality in Ellerbe Creek, “the most degraded stream in the Falls Lake basin,” according to Chris Dreps, director of the creek’s Watershed Association.
After a presentation in May, council members encouraged the stormwater staff to spend several months on a public-information campaign to win citizen support for the wetland. Preliminary plans and drawings show the wetland as a parklike feature providing a habitat for wildlife and opportunities for environmental education, as well as a filter for stormwater.
“Making this not just a pond where we store water, but a fantastic natural facility for our community,” said Councilman Steve Schewel.
Some residents of the nearby Old North Durham neighborhood, though, point to other pollution mitigation projects in Durham that have created problems with aesthetics, nuisance wildlife and crime, as well as eyesores collecting trash along with stormwater.
“We don’t want this to become … a project that signifies city neglect of public spaces,” said Peter Katz, president of the Old North Durham Neighborhood Association.
Neighbors have objected to demolishing the Duke Diet and Fitness Center building, a former YMCA they hoped the city would buy and renovate into a community center.
Engineering studies conclude that an effective wetland would require converting the entire site and that renovating the building would cost more than the building is worth: about $2 million, according to the county tax valuation.
Bonfield said he is negotiating with Duke about a price for the building but could give no estimate.
Total project cost is estimated at $8 million.
“I’m very concerned about the budget on this,” said Councilman Eugene Brown. “I understand, it’s like the Rolling Stones song, ‘You can’t always get what you want.’ ”
Councilman Mike Woodard reminded Brown how the Rolling Stones’ song ends: “If you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”