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Criticism voiced over sewer plant plan in Jefferson County

October 31, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The heat was turned up on a proposed $25 million sewage treatment plant Thursday morning when a county resident told the Jefferson County Commission that the project "appears to be tainted" because land developers paid for a study that led to the plant.

An official with the Jefferson County Public Service District, which is proposing the sewer plant, defended the project and said Vicki Faulkner's statements are incorrect.

Faulkner said later in the day she may have misunderstood how the study for the plant was funded.

At the commission meeting, Faulkner outlined her concerns about the proposed sewer plant through a statement she read to the commissioners.

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In addition to her concerns about how the project is being funded, Faulkner complained about how a public hearing for the proposed plant was conducted Monday night at Wright Denny Intermediate School.

Faulkner said the information presented about the sewer plant at the public hearing was overwhelming, acronyms that sewer officials used to describe the plant were confusing and an overhead projector used during the presentation was not working properly.

A report that describes the project is 900 pages long, Faulkner said.

Faulkner complained about other ways county sewer officials were releasing information about the project, and at one point, referred to the process as "just a ruse to keep it from the public."Faulkner claims developers paid $1.6 million for a study to locate the plant along Cattail Run near where the stream empties into the Shenandoah River.

Susanne Lawton, general manager of the Public Service District, said the Public Service District paid for the study. The $1.6 million that Faulkner is referring to is the design stage of the plant, Lawton said.

A group of housing developers in the county are being asked to contribute to the cost of that phase of the plant, Lawton said.

The fact that developers may help build the plant "still seems unseemly to me," Faulkner said.

The sewer plant began raising concerns when it was unveiled by the Jefferson County Public Service District on Oct. 6.

County residents questioned the location of the plant and why it was being proposed when a comprehensive plan determining how the county should grow in coming years has not been completed.

Public Service District officials say the plant is needed to serve new housing developments in the area north of U.S. 340 between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Faulkner said she is concerned about how the plant will impact nearby Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Faulkner said she was not pressuring the commissioners to vote up or down on the proposed plant Thursday, but only asking them to study it closely.

"It will be stopped anyway, just like Murphy Farm was," Faulkner said, referring to a proposed 188-home development that was proposed for the historic Murphy Farm in Harpers Ferry before it was purchased by a land conservation group.

Numerous steps need to be taken in order for the plant to become reality, including review of the plan by the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council and the state Department of Environmental Protection, which would have to issue discharge permits for the plant, Public Service District officials have said.

The West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council has asked the commissioners to give their blessing to the project as part of the council's review process, Lawton said.

The commissioners had mixed reaction to Faulkner's comments.

Commissioner James G. Knode asked what is wrong with developers helping to pay for infrastructure improvements in the county.

Commissioner Greg Corliss said he has several concerns about the project, including its cost.

Corliss said he believes sewer and water bills could double - possibly running up to $200 a month for some customers - to pay for the project.

"I know who is going to pay. It's going to be all the rate payers. They are going to pay for all of this," Corliss said.

It is possible sewer rates could increase for the district's 1,379 sewer customers if enough money cannot be obtained from developers to help pay for the plant, Lawton said.

Customers currently pay $10.79 per 1,000 gallons of sewage treated, but it could rise to $13.83 per 1,000 gallons, Lawton said.

The average amount of sewage produced monthly by each customer is 4,500 gallons, Lawton said.

The rates eventually would fall as more customers were added to the system, Lawton said.

"Over the years, they would actually be lower than they are now," Lawton said.

Faulkner suggested that instead of building the new plant, the City of Charles Town's sewer treatment plant be expanded because it will be about four miles closer to the new development that needs to be served.

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