Sewer System Work Needed

Those “unexpected” expenses that plague most of us — the car needs a new transmission, the house needs a new roof, etc. — really should not be surprises. If you own something, it needs to be repaired occasionally.

So it is with the infrastructure that serves us collectively. Sometimes, we just have to bite the bullet and spend some money on it.

Wheeling residents have reached that point on our sewerage system. How to pay for what needs done is the only real question.

For many years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required that municipalities separate pipelines carrying raw sewage to treatment plants from those designed to drain away surface water from storms. The EPA’s rationale is based on the quality of water in streams.

Few towns and cities have done what the EPA demands. To its credit, the agency has been relatively understanding.

There are other reasons to separate sanitary sewers from storm drains, however. One is that when storm water is carried through sanitary sewers, it has to go through sewage treatment plants. That costs money. Installing separate piping can reduce costs.

Another concern is that during hard rains, combined storm-sanitary sewer systems can overflow and/or back up into basements. Referring to that problem this week, City Manager Robert Herron commented, “It is not acceptable for the city of Wheeling to use somebody’s basement as a storage unit for sewage.”

No, it is not.

Wheeling already has separated storm and sanitary sewers in a few places. Work on such a project is continuing on Main Street.

More needs to be done, members of one of Wheeling City Council’s committees believe. They plan to recommend about $28 million in sewer system improvements.

Paying the tab for that could require increasing sewerage rates by about 57 percent over a period of, perhaps, two years.

Herron has said that would increase the average customer’s bill by about $25 a month. Customers producing relatively small quantities of sewage would pay less.

City officials should structure the rates in a manner calculated to reduce the impact on people, often the elderly, living on fixed incomes. Twenty-five dollars a month can be a lot when you are living on a monthy Social Security check.

But the project should be undertaken. In truth, it is long overdue. Postponing it until a later date could mean even steeper sewerage rates as a result of higher construction costs in the future.