MAN, W.Va. — The town of Man’s ongoing water infiltration problem is a financial nightmare that is costing the municipality around $100,000 dollars a year in bills to the Buffalo Creek PSD to treat rainwater.
The problem, and phase one of the possible solution were the only major topics of discussion at the Man Town Council meeting on Feb. 13. Jesse Alden of the Thrasher Group, an engineering services company that has been working on a proposed three phase overhaal of the town’s water system and Town Accountant Jeff Valet discussed different ways of dealing with the issue Monday night. Both agreed that the town will have to do something as the problem is not going away.
“We have completed the engineering report,” Alden said, explaining that he wanted to submit the plans to the Infrastructure Council on March the 10th in the hopes of identifying possible grant funding the town might be eligible for.
“We are moving forward, which includes Phase I of the project which includes mapping the system and other needed work,” said Town Accountant Jeff Valet, who said the initial plans have been done with the idea that the town might not recieve any federal or state grant funding.
Phase I of the project would cost around $627,000.00. However the rest of the project would possibly be in the $11 million range, causing Jeff Valet to refer to Phase I as the “low hanging fruit” because it is the most affordable and simplest part of the project to do.
“What happens if this project does not make it to Phase II?” asked Councilman Roger Muncy.
Valet said everything that would be done in Phase I has to be done anyway and that any improvement would be needed.
“Everything we do will help,” he said. “This part of it is like the low-hanging fruit. These are the easiest things to get done first,” he said, noting that the $624,000 project would wind up saving the town money over the long run by getting rid of the problem that is costing the town thousands every time it rains.
“We had a $19,000 dollar water bill this month,” Valet said, noting that last year the town paid a little under $100,000.00 to treat rainwater at the Buffalo Creek PSD’s treatment plant because water collection lines were pouring right into Buffalo Creek’s sewage treatment meters. In 2015 the town paid over $100,000.00 to treat rainwater.
Jesse Alden said the main goal of Phase I was to eliminate the problem and make sure the town was not bankrupted by paing for rainwater ever month.
“We did some testing and we know you have storm drains that are tied into the treatement system,” Alden said. “By removing those drains it will save the town a lot of money.”
“We want to do as much of this work as soon as we can,” Jeff Valet said, explaining that was why Phase I was the least expensive phase of the proposed project, the rest of which is expected to be several million dollars. “If we don’t do anything, and it rains a lot, we could get $12,000, $13,000 and $14,000 bills from BC PSD all summer.” Valet said the town had several water issues to adress and very little had been done to deal with the larger problems in recent years.
Valet said Phase I could be financed as a $627,000.00 loan at 2 1/2 percent interest over 40 years.
“At that rate, it would cost an average customer who has a bill of $15.85 per month an increase to $19.74 – less than a $4 increase for the average customer.” He noted that the surcharge would be done away with when the loan was paid off. “This proposed package was designed around the idea that we would probably get no grant money,” he added. “But if we get another $19,000 sewage bill, where will we get the money to pay it?”
When Mayor Jim Blevins asked how long it would take to start working on the project, Alden said that he wanted to submit it for approval first before anything else.
“That way it puts you in a line to possibly get grant funding if it is available,” Alden said, noting that the package could be sumbitted to the proper authorities on March 10 for their approval or recommendations.
Councilman John Fekete said he would like to see solid numbers before making any final judgements. Fekete noted that many people currently struggle as it is to pay their water and sewage bills. He admitted the situation was serious.
“Our lines are in bad shape,” he said. “And we are getting these bills for $10,000 and even $15,000 a month. We are bleeding money. How much would the rate increases be on an $11 million dollar project? I am currently paying $100 a month for combined water and sewage. Many people won’t be able to pay a huge rate increase. I don’t want the town to lose it’s water company, but a monthly bill of $150 a month is just out of control.”
Jeff Valet said the town could become a wholesale buyer of water from one of the county’s two Public Service Districts, and said the town could find out what the cost would be to purchase water from an outside vendor.
“If you do nothing, your water system will continue to deteriorate, and you will have to continue to pay Buffalo Creek and that will cause you to do a rate increase too,” Jesse Alden said.
Fekete said he wanted to know precisely what the cost to the consumer would be before going further.
“The other water plants have significantly higher rates,” Jeff Valet said. Alden pointed out that by going with that option the residents would be hit with a rate increase immediatly, “not over time.”
“Somebody is going to have to do something,” Mayor Blevins said. “And the PSD’s rates for service are a lot higher.”
“It needs to be looked at,” John Fekete said. “I don’t want to borrow $11 million dollars and put it on the backs of the people of this town.”
“Dealing with the water infiltratin problem still has to get done,” Jeff Valet said. “If we do something about that we will save the town money over time…If we get the ball rolling, we will see if there are any grants available for Phase I of the project. If we do get a grant, we can roll the rates back down.”
Mayor Blevins asked for approval for Jesse Alden to submit the proposed project to the infrastructure council in March. The measure was approved by the council.
“This would be easier if we had more customers,” Fekete said. “Whatever amount we have to borrow would be lower if we had more people to spread it out among.”
The town currently has 387 customers.
J.D. Charles is a freelance writer for Civitas Media and a retired reporter for The Logan Banner. He can be reached by calling 304-752-6950.