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Sewer, runway flights of fancy make him sore

March 23, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Gotta love the juxtaposition last week. On the same day the Washington County Commissioners were awarding a $17.4 million contract for the first stages of the $60 million runway extension, the county sewer guys were in the House telling the commissioners that everyone's sewer rates will go up each year until 2014 because the county is still struggling to repay the massive sewer debt it ran up in the '90s.

The commissioners do not see anything wrong with this picture.

Forget that we're still paying off our last multi-million-dollar boondoggle and will be for the next decade; let's launch ourselves happily into the next multi-million-dollar boondoggle.

The last boondoggle didn't work, of course, but the new boondoggle will be different. We know this because the commissioners say so. They do not have any facts to back up this claim, but we have their word and that's good enough for me - I could not be more convinced if I had heard it directly from the mouth of the Iraqi Public Information Minister himself.

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You just can't help wishing they would pay off one of their little sandbox projects before they begin on the next. And you can't help but wish there were some guarantee that traffic at the airport won't be just as dead with a longer runway as it is now. It does offer some good naming possibilities, though. London has Heathrow, Hagerstown will have Deathrow.

This initial, $17 million phase includes pouring a lot of fill dirt onto the airport property. I guess the county buys its dirt at the same place the city of Hagerstown buys its salt.

Actually, the fill dirt, an impressive 150,000 truckloads of it, will come from the county landfill. No symbolism there. But instead of digging a big hole for our garbage and taking the dirt to the runway, why don't we just take our garbage directly to the airport and pave over it? Saves a step, I would think.

As for our ever-increasing sewer and water bills, County Administrator Rod Shoop laughed it off, saying the rate increase only equaled, "six or seven cigarettes a month."

That's not bad. Although you figure the state will be charging us six or seven cigarettes a month more to register our cars, six or seven cigarettes a month to flush our toilets, six or seven cigarettes a month to eat snacks and on and on. By the end of the year, we'll either be broke, or dead of cancer.

Even county sewer chief Greg Murray got into the Consumer Product Analogy while trying to paint a happy face on the cost of water, saying, "For the price of a bottle of Pepsi, you can get 12,000 gallons of clean water." (But do you get a chance at winning a free i-tune?)

Now I've got a lot of love for Murray, because he got the sewer department back on the right track after the '90s fiasco. But I cannot sit idly by for one more second listening to Murray's tiresome anti-soda agenda.

And the news story says the average customer uses 12,000 gallons of water a quarter, and that the average quarterly bill for these 12,000 gallons of water is $109. Remind me never to buy a Pepsi out of the sewer-plant vending machines - which must be serviced by the Hagerstown Salt Co. and the Washington County Dirt Co.

I know, I know, it was probably supposed to be "a bottle of Pepsi a day." But come on, wouldn't you county officials be so much lonelier if I weren't around to ridicule misprints?

But the $17.4 million for Shoop's Extension is no misprint (I think the federal government is supposed to pay us back for that, as soon as it gets its next child support check in the mail, or something) so, in the words of Ronald Reagan, "there they go again."

I suppose, now that we've committed some serious jack to the project, I have to start rooting for its success. I am nothing if not a team player and, in all honesty, I want it to become a booming aeronautics hub and not just the world's most expensive inline skating park. But I hope you will excuse me for still being dubious. Either way, we ought to have our answer by the year 2014.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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