The state Public Service Commission is reviewing whether Charles Town should expand its sewer treatment plant. Case number 004-0095-S-CN Charles Town Sewer
There was a public hearing 8/24/04.
Staff summary & recommendation for expansion 9/3/04
1. 3,000 new houses will be built only if this expansion is approved. Those houses will need hundreds of millions from the state (like $200 million being spent on bigger roads) and tens of millions of dollars from local residents (like more school bonds).
2. Existing residents spend 250 hours of extra commuting time each year for each house built (1000 houses per year add at least 5 minutes daily commuting time for 15,000 commuters; which is 250,000 hours total extra commuting time per year). Each commuter has an hour a year extra commuting time from each 60 homes built.
3. For new highways alone, the state is spending $60,000 per house, for the 3,000 new homes added in the past decade. ($205 million total in Jefferson County, according to p. 19 of this government report, including about $10 million each for replacing Harpers Ferry & Shepherdstown bridges from old age, so $185 million for road expansion, divided by 3,000 homes added between 1990 & 2000 censuses).
4. For schools, the state spends $4,000 per student per year in state operating subsidy. New houses don't pay that much state tax, and their children drain down the fixed supply of lottery money which is the main source of WV school finance ($30 million state money for school operation 2002-03 in Jefferson County, divided by 7,276 enrollment that year).
5. The state is also spending over $25 million for new school construction in this county. (Economic grant $6 million for new high school, SBA $12 million for new high school & $9 million for 9th grade building).
1. Adding a billion bacteria per hour to Evitts Run is a harm to people who live on and use Evitts Run. Pumping 1.75 million gallons per day (now 1.2) of effluent at the legal maximum of 400 fecal coliform bacteria per tenth of a liter means a billion bacteria per hour. This is estimated by EPA to cause an extra 8 acute gastrointestinal illnesses per 1,000 exposures. Swimming in the effluent plume will also cause extra eye, ear, nose and throat infections which EPA does not address (pp. 4, 9 in EPA, Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Bacteria-1986, www.epa.gov/waterscience/beaches/1986crit.pdf and p. 2 in EPA, Implementation Guidance for Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Bacteria May 2002 Draft, www.epa.gov/ost/standards/bacteria/bacteria.pdf ).
2. Charles Town's record of pollution violations means the real situation will be worse. An operator with a decent record could be granted the assumption that it will meet water quality standards and cause the illnesses mentioned above. However Charles Town can be assumed to violate water quality standards and cause many more illnesses. DEP is currently prosecuting a court case against Charles Town because of their permit violations. The violations included releasing 4,900 bacteria per tenth of a liter during one Wednesday last July, ten times the allowed level, in a peak swimming month. The number of extra illnesses such a peak could cause is unknowable; EPA's data do not extend to such high levels. The City develops new problems at the treatment plant as fast as they fix old ones. DEP does their best, but they cannot prevent violations; they can only impose penalties.
3. No expansion should be allowed until Charles Town complies with their existing permit for at least a year. The PSC and DEP approved a major investment in the plant a few years ago, so it could start complying with its NPDES permit. Even with that help Charles Town violates their permit most months. The PSC should not undermine DEP enforcement and state water quality by rewarding an ineffective operator with a major expansion. Developers may be delayed. They have known Charles Town's problems for years, and invested with full knowledge of the problems. They are entitled to speculate, but the state cannot guarantee speculative returns, cannot guarantee sewer service at the cost of clean rivers, and must indeed guarantee clean rivers. The only way to have any chance of clean rivers is to deny expansion until Charles Town shows they can manage what they have now.
5. Charles Town tests for pollution inadequately. Their permit requires weekly testing, and they always test on Wednesdays during the day. Thus no one knows how much bacteria they release at nights and on weekends, when commuters are home, along with gambling customers and other tourists. Half our workers work outside the county, so there is a big difference between weekday and night/weekend loads. Charles Town needs to develop a record of test results randomly spread 24/7, so the PSC and public can judge the current processing ability.
6. City will have some new customers, and needs to provide a map. Item 8 in their "SUPPLEMENT TO APPLICATION" falsely says "Charles Town will not acquire any new customers by this project." Homebuilders are currently asking the city for capacity and it will be provided if the project is completed. Furthermore the City is acting as agent for Ranson and the county PSD in this expansion, and needs to provide a map of their new customers. Some new customers are mentioned, but not located, in the Facility Plan Addendum. The required map would help the public and PSC to understand which customers are real and which are never likely to receive planning permission.
7. City overestimates future customers. All three jurisdictions have zoning and subdivision reviews which limit future customers, especially since roads and schools are so overcrowded in the area. Charles Town's water system has been over-sized for a decade, because they overestimated customers and the economy. Now both land use controls and the economy are changing again, and they are overestimating again. Attachment B went to PSC staff 12/24/03 in connection with the county=s regional treatment proposal. Attachment B showed that most proposed homes have not received planning approval. The City should be required to provide such a list, indicating each development's proposed EDUs, and the number of EDUs with preliminary planning approval and final approval. While the PSC will not use sewers to restrict growth, it also must not let over-building of sewers be a financial drain that pushes in favor of new growth. The PSC must be neutral or, if anything, lean toward serving existing needs around the state first.
8. City financial statements are inadequate for public review, according to their Accountant=s Report on Rule 42 Exhibit: "Accordingly, these financial statements are not designed for those who are not informed about such matters." The auditor's phrase "such matters" refers to the previous two sentences: "Management has elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures required by U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. If the omitted disclosures were included, they might influence the user=s conclusions about financial position, results of operations, changes in fund equity, and cash flows." The public is not "informed about such matters" so it needs financial statements clear enough so that the accountant can certify they fully inform the general public.
9. Sewer construction must minimize and detect breaks. The ground in this area is a deep and heavily weathered and fractured layer of limestone. Fissures and sinkholes are continuously dissolving and can and do cause sudden shifts and breaks in the ground at any time. There are sinkhole and cavern issues which will recur in the whole area. The pipes need to be specially designed to handle ground shifts without breaking, such as double walls and/or flexible plastic. After using special pipe designs, there also needs to be an instant method to detect leaks, such as sensors under the pipe; or flow meters at both ends, wired to signal a discrepancy. Breaks can go undetected for days while sewage drains down into limestone fissures.
It is too late for public comment on this case, but for future reference, the address would be
Ms. Sandra Squire, Executive Secretary
Public Service Commission of West Virginia
201 Brooks St
PO Box 812
Charleston WV 25323