“The only way the existing treatment plant could meet the requirement is by magic. And since magic is not available, other options must be explored.” —Judge Keith A. George
As colorfully described in his recommendation last week, Judge George approved Ronceverte’s application for a certificate of convenience and necessity to construct a new $27.6 million sewage facility. The administrative law judge was assigned by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to hear the petition filed by the Greenbrier Public Service District No. 1 (GPSD #1) in protest of Ronceverte’s sewer rate increase.
His reasoning was plain – the existing plant is very near its capacity which must be addressed before any significant number of new customers can be added. Additionally, George stated, no better financing is likely and the new plant must be constructed for reasons stated below:
• The existing treatment plant is not safe for its operators and is difficult to operate.
• It also cannot meet the new environmental standards even with significant changes. If it does not comply with the reduction in phosphorus by the required date, the city will be subject to fines and lawsuits.
• There is no effective peaking capacity and when it rains, sludge flows out of the plant untreated into the Greenbrier River.
• The city of Ronceverte has obtained favorable funding with significant grant money. If the project is denied, the city will likely lose the chance for much of the funding.
Judge George stated the choice of treatment plant is reasonable, referring to the appropriate option of using a VLR (vertical lift reactor) design, in use in numerous sites around the state. The VLR allows the city to build on the existing plant property which is relatively small and it allows for elevation above the flood plain, as well as for easy expansion in the case of additional capacity needs.
The cost of the project shall not exceed $27,660,467.40. The proposed financing for the project will consist of a West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council Bridge loan in the amount of $7,900,000 at zero percent interest for 40 years; a Water Development Authority Grant Anticipation Note of $1,000,000; a Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan of $17,863,039 at zero percent interest and a 0.5 percent administrative fee for 40 years. Alternative funding which would replace the WVIJDC Bridge loan, in whole or in part, with Senate Bill 245 grant money is also approved.
On the down side, unfortunately, the rates for the customers for both systems are still high.
“It is difficult to approve a project that will result in an $88.92 monthly bill for a 4,500 gallon customer of Ronceverte,” George stated. “It will be even more difficult for low income families and seniors on fixed incomes to pay such high bills. The project will also result in high bills for the customers of GPSD #1. It is likely that families on both systems will have to carefully reduce water usage.”
The parties involved – Ronceverte, PSC Staff, Lewisburg and Greenbrier Public Service District #1 – are granted 15 days of the date of the judge’s order to file written exceptions. If no exceptions are filed, Judge George’s order shall become the order of the Commission.