Planning Ahead For Sewer Work

A consultant’s report to Wheeling City Council last week was timed perfectly, in a way, during the Halloween season. If what he said doesn’t scare you, chances are no number of zombies and other make-believe monsters will faze you.

Council members have been discussing a $28 million project to improve the city sewer system. It is to be funded by rate increases averaging about $14.50 per customer.

It has been plain for some time that certain upgrades need to be made. Basement flooding in some neighborhoods during heavy rains has resulted from sewer lines inadequate to carry away water quickly enough.

A substantial amount of other work, unrelated to that problem, also is needed. Some of it has been postponed for too long because many sewer lines were, in effect, installed and forgotten decades ago.

But $28 million is just a drop in the sewer system, consultant Craig Juday told council members last week. As much as $200 million in sewer system work may be needed during the next 30 years, he said.

Yes, $200 million.

In addition to handling basement flooding and what amounts to routine maintenance on a large scale, there is a third factor. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency insists that municipalities take steps to keep raw sewage from flowing into streams. Wheeling already has taken care of most of that problem, but additional work is needed.

Two hundred million dollars is a lot of money. So, with due respect to the consultant, getting a second opinion would be wise. Perhaps less expensive ways of achieving desired ends can be found.

With respect to the EPA demands, members of Congress, who represent many other towns and cities where the cost of compliance is a worry, may want to ask whether all the requirements are absolutely necessary to safeguard water quality.

Not all the burden of the massive expenditure envisioned by Juday will fall on the current council, or those living and doing business in Wheeling now. Thirty years is a long time.

Still, the responsible thing for council to do is to determine what the bottom line — and we mean the bottom line — is, and begin planning to deal with the problem.

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