Water Plant Kickoff ‘Long Time Coming’

After years of planning and a controversial rate increase, work on Wheeling’s $30.55 million new water treatment plant begins today.

Weather permitting, the city will mark the occasion with a groundbreaking ceremony at 10 a.m. at the project site, adjacent to the existing plant on Richland Avenue in Warwood – a 90-year-old facility that reached the end of its useful life some time ago, according to Wheeling officials.

“I’m really excited about this. It has been a long time coming,” said Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge.

Delbrugge, who represents Warwood on council, has been looking forward to this day for nine years, since touring the treatment plant as a newly elected council member in 2004. She believes if the general public could have seen what she did that day, more would have understood the need for City Council to approve a 70-percent water rate increase to fund the project – later reduced to 53.1 percent by the PSC after some of Wheeling’s water resale customers filed formal protests with the agency.

“It was in deplorable shape then. I don’t know how (plant workers) do it. My hats go off to them. … I know they’re just as excited about getting this new plant as I am,” Delbrugge said.

Construction is expected to take about two years, and demolition of the old plant is included in Dayton, Ohio-based Shook Construction’s general contract with the city for the project, awarded in May. The company’s preparation to begin work is visible along Wheeling Heritage Trail, as a construction trailer and containers bearing the company’s logo line the path running behind the old facility.

The city sold $39.32 million in bonds to fund the project, including the $30.55 million contract for the plant building, a $4.73 million membrane filtration system, closing costs and a bond reserve fund for contingencies.

Wheeling taxpayers can expect to spend $66.63 million over the next 30 years to retire that debt, repaid with proceeds from the 53.1-percent rate increase that went into effect after the May bond sale.

Although the PSC balked at the 70-percent increase City Council originally passed, it agreed to allow the new rates to go into effect as soon as bonds were sold, rather than upon project completion. As a result, the city avoided paying an additional $7 million in interest that would have accrued, allowing it to afford the new plant even under the lesser increase.

Residential customers are paying about $10 more per month than before the rate increase, based on an average 4,500 gallons of monthly water usage.

Construction of the plant will result in the demolition of the four tennis courts along Osage Lane, but City Manager Robert Herron previously said those would be rebuilt at a location nearby.