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Update on water & sewer services

By Staff | Nov 20, 2009

Mayor Jim Auxer

This is an update of improvements to our water and sewer infrastructure that will be taking place in the next few years.

Recently, we had to increase water and sewer rates. The reasons for the increased rates: updated water and sewer systems at a far lower overall cost than if the rate increases had been delayed. The bottom-line numbers are:

Total cost of mandated upgrades: $13.6 million

Total interest savings: $8.3 million

When WV communities need to borrow money for water and sewer systems upgrades, low-interest loans are available if the town’s current customer rates are within an acceptable range-in this case the rates equal one and one half percent of town resident’s median income (based on the 2000 census).

Water storage tanks: Operating under a mandate by the West Virginia Health Department, we will be replacing the two aging standpipe storage tanks in the Heatherfield area with a single one million gallon tank. Also, our engineers have advised placing another new water storage tank farther north from Heatherfield; thus, in the event of a water main break in town, this second tank can continue to serve customers in that vicinity.

The water storage tank project will cost approximately $5 million. Currently, we have $1 million capital capacity fees set aside in a restricted account; this requires us to borrow only $4 million. Because the water rates were increased, we were able to get a 1 percent interest rate which translates to a savings on interest of nearly $4.5 million over the 40-year-term of the loan.

Sewer plant upgrade: Federal requirements to clean and restore the Chesapeake Bay cast a wide net: the Chesapeake Bay Watershed covers 64,000 square miles from New York through Virginia. The Bay itself is North America’s largest and most biologically diverse estuary, home to more than 3,600 species of plants, fish, and animals. There are an estimated 16 million people living in the watershed; though Shepherdstown contributes only a small fraction to that population, we must remain responsible and active in restoring and maintaining the life of the watershed.

The upgrade to Shepherdstown’s sewer plant will meet the federal requirements to return clean water to the Potomac River and the Bay. The new sewer plant will handle 800,000 gallons per day, which is two times the amount we can handle now.

We are borrowing $8.6 million to upgrade the sewer plant. If sewer rates had not been increased, the interest rate for that loan would be between 3-to-5 percent; instead, we received the loan at one-half () percent interest-that’s a savings of $3.8 million in interest payments over the 30-year-period of the loan.

Again, the total savings on both low-interest rate loans is $8.3 million.

Water and sewer rates were increased to improve our infrastructure. As West Virginia’s oldest town, it is imperative that we remain environmentally responsible as we move forward to protect one of our country’s most valuable resources, the Chesapeake Bay.