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$100 million system will entail plenty of planning

February 25, 2000

At a time when Washington County is still wondering how to pay down a sewer debt estimated at $50-million-plus, Berkeley County, W.Va. is looking at a proposal to build a $100 million, three-phase sewer system for the southeastern part of the county.

Officials say the estimated cost of the system, originally pegged at $70 million, escalated because of continuing development which is expected to speed up when developers realize municipal sewer service is available.

Much of the cost will be paid for by a mix of loans and federal grants, officials say, but no one has said much about the impact of development on other county services, like schools and law enforcement. In a system that expects to add 6,000 new customers in the next three years, it's a concern that ought to be addressed.

At the very least, large-scale developers should be encouraged to be generous with their set-asides of land for road rights-of-way, school sites and open space. Developers should also be encouraged to build a mix of housing types, so that a small, middle-income family wouldn't be priced out of the neighborhood, but could move up as the family grew and income increase.

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The same sort of housing (or apartments, for that matter) should be available so that seniors who no longer need a large home and are tired of yard work can trade a large swelling for a smaller living space.

Aside from schools, new residents will require a variety of services, particularly if some of the development to come is designed for retirees. Things like ambulance service and senior centers may need to be upgraded to deal with an influx of new seniors.

We're assuming that Berkeley County has observed and will learn from Washington County's mistakes. The essentials learned from the fiasco on this side of the river include: Pay attention to professional consultants, market the new service as soon as possible and set rates that will cover costs and maintenance.

Preaching caution doesn't mean we oppose growth, but we offer the advice in the hope that poor planning is something Berkeley County can avoid.

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