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State funds could reduce sewer rate increases in Martinsburg, Berkeley Co.

April 01, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Sewage treatment plant managers in Martinsburg and Berkeley counties hope that state funding aimed at helping local communities meet Chesapeake Bay pollution standards will cut  rate increases for customers in half.

Curtis Keller of the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District and Martinsburg Utilities Director Steve Knipe said Thursday that the rate increases likely wouldn’t be put into effect until 2013 or 2014.

Gutting and retrofitting Martinsburg’s sewage plant is projected to cost $40 million to $45 million, according to Knipe. And upgrading Berkeley County’s four sewage facilities is expected to cost about $45 million, Keller said.

Without the funding approved by state lawmakers in March, Keller estimated the average ratepayer would see a rate hike of $18 per month. Knipe did not have a similar cost projection available for Martinsburg customers.

Customers of the county’s public sewage treatment system now pay an average monthly bill of $47.25, Keller said.

With a typical bill currently ranging between $20 and $30 a month, Knipe said the city’s approximate 6,000 customers have had one of the lowest sewage billing rates in the state.

Knipe said it was not yet clear exactly how much of the state funding will be available to the city’s project, but he still expects ratepayers will see a significant rate hike.

In addition to absorbing the cost of a major plant upgrade, Knipe said the city’s operational budget for sewer treatment is expected to increase because the new technology upgrades will require more electricity and chemicals.

The legislation approved by state lawmakers makes funding available to operators of large public wastewater treatment plants to meet standards targeting Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Three treatment plants in the Greenbrier River watershed, along with plants in the bay watershed counties of Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan, Hampshire, Mineral, Grant and Hardy are eligible for more than $80 million that is projected to be available for the upgrades, officials have said.

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