City Expected To OK Sewer Agreement With County

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A county sanitary sewer project that has been on the table for decades may finally come to fruition as the city of Athens is expected to sign an inter-governmental agreement with the county to treat waste from the Route 50 corridor southwest of the city.

Two years ago, the county commissioners approached the city about extending public sanitary sewer service to subdivisions southwest of the city to Radford Road. The county has been discussing the project since the mid 1990s after the Environmental Protection Agency expressed concern about failing septic systems along the corridor.

The county had originally looked at several options to treat sewage that would come from the corridor, including building its own sewage plant. However, costs ultimately ruled out that possibility. After extensive negotiations between the city and county, an ordinance will be introduced next week at Athens City Council to allow the county to tie into city’s sanitary sewer system and have the sewage treated at the city’s wastewater treatment plant off East State Street.

“In recent years, the county has come to the realization that they’re not going to be able to build both the sewer system and the sewer plant and there’s this large city just to the northeast of the area of concern that has a large treatment plant,” said Athens Department of Engineering and Public Works Director Andy Stone during Monday’s Council meeting.

When the county first approached the city about the possibility, several Athens City Council members had concerns about the proposal, most notably Councilwoman Chris Fahl.

“I was probably the most cynical of the people,” Fahl admitted on Monday. She will be the one introducing the legislation next week. She said her willingness to bring the proposal forward shows that a lot of negotiation happened to make both the city and county happy.

Fahl said that the negotiations with the county were “very difficult and very serious” at times, but said ultimately the agreement is good for everybody.

Stone said some of the city’s concerns were alleviated by placing maximum capacity limits on the amount of sewage to come from the subdivisions. The contract will have a maximum of 600,000 gallons of sewage per day and sewage will only be accepted from 1,500 equivalent single households. Stone said a single household is categorized by 400 gallons per day. He said mobile homes produce less than that and apartment complexes would produce more.

The agreement would essentially provide sanitary sewer service for existing residential and commercial development in the area with little room for growth. Stone said any additional developments in the area would have to be submitted in a separate agreement to receive sanitary sewer service in the future.

Although the city would be treating the sewage, city administrators said they have no interest in annexing the area into the city. Mayor Paul Wiehl said annexation would require the city to provide other services such as police, fire and code enforcement to the region, which it can’t financially do.

As the city’s largest source of revenue is income tax, not property tax, Stone said the city wouldn’t benefit much from annexing the properties into the city limits.

The project is expected to decrease the amount of septic pollution in Margaret Creek, but Stone said the project would also benefit the city monetarily.

The city is currently rehabilitating its wastewater treatment plant. Stone said the facility needed updated anyway and the city anticipated taking on between $16-17 million in debt to pay for the project. He said that capacity and sewer fees from the county project will help service that debt and maintain current infrastructure in the city.

Stone said the sewage from the corridor outside the city is anticipated to add approximately 10 percent to what the city is currently treating. He said the wastewater treatment plant currently treats about 2 million gallons a day.

Legislation will be introduced next week to give the service-safety director the authority to sign the contract with the county. After it is signed, Fahl noted, the project will be in the county’s hands.