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Benwood May See Sewer Costs Increase

WHEELING — Benwood pays Wheeling to take its sewage at its wastewater plant, and that cost is going to increase as Wheeling seeks to improve its water and sewer systems.

Benwood now must consider passing on steep sewer rate hikes to customers. City officials may also look to build its own sewer plant, or partner with nearby McMechen on a joint project to construct a new facility.

Benwood residents currently pay a minimum sewer rate of $32.64 a month for the first 2,000 gallons of water used. That rate is expected to go up to $47.33 per month, and equals a monthly increase of at least $14.69, said Mayor Walter Yates.

“Most people don’t use just 2,000 gallons of water,” Yates said.

The sewer charge would be on top of what customers already pay for water and garbage in the city.

The city has its own water system, and the minimum charge to customers for water per 2,000 gallons used is $20.20, according to Yates. He said garbage collection is privatized to Jochums Refuse, and Benwood residents are charged $15 a month for the service.

When added together, customers will be paying water, sewer and garbage bills of at least $82.53 per month.

Wheeling has already begun charging Benwood the new sewer rate, but it has not yet been passed on to customers.Benwood City Council still must improve the new sewer rates by ordinance.

Benwood ties into Wheeling’s sewer system at 48th Street in North Benwood, where Benwood has its own meter and receives a bill from the city of Wheeling, explained Benwood Public Works Director Dave McLaughlin.

Much of the wastewater going through the meter is actually runoff rain water coming from residential roofs and downspouts, and a city ordinance actually prohibits the practice, he said.

“Every drop of rainwater we send there we have to pay to treat,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve asked residents over and over to remove their downspouts from the drains and send the water into their yards. This will reduce costs. As long as they allow it to stay in there, our costs are going to be high and they’re the ones who have to pay the bill.”

Wheeling has raised its sewer rates to all municipalities it serves by 45%, according to McLaughlin.

Benwood filed suit with the West Virginia Public Service Commission on the grounds Wheeling’s proposed upgrades to its sewer system don’t involve Benwood’s one sewer line. Benwood lost the suit.

“We don’t feel we should be responsible for paying for upgrades in their city,” McLaughlin said of Wheeling. “We believe we are responsible for our pipe and the plant that treats (the wastewater), but not for paying for a line in Warwood that doesn’t benefit us whatsoever.

“Unfortunately, the PSC doesn’t agree with us and they ruled against us.”

Benwood plans to appeal, McLaughlin said.

The city maintained its own sewer plant until the mid-1990s when the West Virginia Environmental Protection Agency mandated upgrades that would have necessitated construction of a new sewer plant, explained Police Chief Frank Longwell.

That wasn’t economically possible at the time as it would have required the hiring of five additional employees for maintenance, he said.

“Right now McMechen’s plant is old, and they’re going to have to do something in the future,” McLaughlin said. “We might explore the option of combining with them, or maybe putting our own in.

“We’ll have to do the math and see if it saves us any money. We obviously don’t want to build something that’s going to cost us more to operate, and then we would have to raise rates more.”

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