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State to help fund plants

By Staff | Mar 18, 2011

One bill that will significantly impact the Eastern Panhandle passed during the last day of the legislative session, thanks in large part to one Jefferson County senator who had worked on the effort for two years.

Sen. Herb Snyder sponsored Senate Bill 245 in which waste water treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed region will receive bonds from the state’s excess video lottery fund to foot a portion of the costs.

“Of the bills that passed (this session), this is probably the most important that passed for the Eastern Panhandle,” said Joe Hankins, chairman of the Jefferson County Public Service District Board.

Hankins and others from the Clean Water Coalition worked to draft a bill and lobbied for its passage. He said the local delegation saw the importance of it and helped see it through to fruition.

Snyder said that money, in the form of $6 million grants, will be distributed to the eight counties in the watershed region every year up to 30 years. And, according to the bill, extra $3 million will also be given to Greenbrier County to fund Greenbrier River watershed compliance projects.

Snyder said the lottery funds will fund 40 percent of the projects’ costs, while utility payers pay the other 60 percent. If it weren’t for this bill, Snyder said, 100 percent of the costs would be paid by ratepayers.

“That’s why the bill was passed,” he said. “It was to protect the customers.”

Plants that will benefit from this must have a flow of 400,000 gallons of water or more per day, Snyder said, and they must meet compliance standards outlined in a federal Environmental Protection Agency mandate.

In the eight counties, four new plants will be constructed while others will receive upgrades. He said the most costly project will be the City of Martinsburg’s $45 million construction, while the least expensive endeavor will be Berkeley Spring’s $1.6 million upgrades.

The Corporation of Shepherdstown, however, has already started construction on a $9.1 million waste water treatment plant that will meet compliance standards.

Snyder said they will eventually get back 40 percent of the money they have already borrowed.

“Shepherdstown is ahead of the curve,” Snyder said. “We didn’t want them to not share in the money because they’re proactive.”

Frank Welch, director of public works for Shepherdstown, said the issue will most likely be on the town’s water and sewer board agenda for the meeting at the end of the month.

Of the over $9 million committed to the new plant, Welch said about $500,000 came from the town’s budget.

“If we would somehow get a reduction of 40 percent,” Welch said, “that would help.”

But Welch feels like there are some unanswered questions. He hopes in the coming weeks to have some more details about how Shepherdstown obtains the money as well as how it affects the bond money the town has already committed to.

Snyder hopes the money will be available about a year from now, depending upon when the bonds are issued.

He said at least now the municipalities know they are getting a break on how much it will cost them.

And Welch had nothing but praise for his local senator who saw the bill through.

“He did a great job. He did a lot of work,” Welch said. “We’re all going to benefit from this.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has not signed the bill yet, but Welch, Snyder and Hankins are all optimistic.