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Upgrade Water, Sewer Carefully

Does Weirton need to double the capacity of its water treatment plant and triple that of the sewage treatment facility? Not to take care of the community’s current needs.

But city officials are looking to the future and they are right to do so.

Members of the separate boards overseeing the water and sewerage systems agreed last week to seek professional guidance regarding upgrades to the utilities. Utilities Director Butch Mastrantoni told them two engineering companies, two law firms and an accounting business already have submitted proposals for such work.

Mastrantoni also noted Weirton’s water and sewage treatment plants have little excess capacity, even at current levels of use. He estimated the water plant’s reserve capacity at 3-4%, with the sewage treatment plant’s at 6%.

Obviously, any growth in residential or business demand for the services could be problematic. But the proposals to increase capacity dramatically are based on something else.

As Mayor Harold Miller explained, there is the prospect of substantial business growth in Weirton, perhaps on property formerly owned by Weirton Steel. He said that potential has been discussed with the land’s current owner, the Frontier Group of Companies, as well as with the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Depending on what type of development is expected, adequate water and sewer infrastructure could be crucial. Weirton’s current capacity could be a red flag for some potential new businesses.

Clearly, however, expansion to the level being discussed would be a risk. If substantial new development does not occur, existing residents and businesses could be stuck paying higher utility bills for capacity they do not use.

Weirton cannot afford to overbuild water and sewage treatment facilities “on spec” — that is, merely in the hope the additional capacity will be used by developers.

In discussing the matter with consultants, city officials should seek scalable proposals — plans that can be adjusted rather than locking Weirton in to set-capacity plants.

Executives in the private sector usually are reluctant to discuss their plans publicly. Solid commitments are virtually out of the question.

Still, city officials need to seek some assurances that if they build it, development will come.

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