Phase II Sewer Project
Elkins was founded in 1889. The city installed its first water and sewer pipes not long after.
At that time, it was common practice not to build separate sewage and stormwater systems. Instead, storm drains were connected to the sewer pipes.
In the city’s early years, this combined system of stormwater and wastewater pipes did not create a problem. As strange as it sounds to modern ears, back then there was no wastewater treatment plant. Everything in those pipes was headed straight to the river.
The good news is that Elkins now has a wastewater treatment plant. The bad news is that, in most of Elkins, our stormwater and sewer systems are still combined. This can be a problem when it rains too hard. During heavy downpours, stormwater enters the system faster than the treatment plant can make room for it by releasing treated water.
When too much stormwater enters a combined system, it results in what are known as “overflow events.” During these events, water from the wastewater system spills into the Tygart Valley River through “combined sewer outfalls,” or hatchways in various locations along the river’s bank. These hatchways are normally closed, but—when there is enough water pressure built up behind them—they open and discharge to the river.
No one wants this to happen. What can we do to fix it? The only solution to this problem is to install new, dedicated stormwater lines. Because there is never any sewage in dedicated stormwater lines, their contents can be discharged straight to the river without needing treatment at the plant.
The more city storm drains we can connect to new, dedicated stormwater lines, the more we can reduce the amount of stormwater that enters the wastewater system during heavy rainfall. In turn, this will reduce overflow events.
Installing new, dedicated stormwater lines isn’t just a good idea. It’s also something that Elkins is required to do under a 2011 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In that decree, a court ordered the City of Elkins to complete a two-phase project to reduce the occurrence of overflow events and otherwise improve portions of its sewer system.
Phase I, which was completed in 2016, installed new, dedicated stormwater lines under Barron Avenue, Kerens Avenue, College Street, and Wilson Street.
Phase II, which began in 2020, installed new, dedicated stormwater lines (and therefore involve significant excavation work) on sections of the following city streets.
- 10th Street
- 11th Street
- 13th Street
- 14th Street
- 15th Street
- 16th Street
- Granny’s Lane
- Lavalette Avenue
- Livingston Avenue
- Railroad Avenue
- River Street
- South Davis Avenue
- South Kerens Avenue
- Ward Avenue
- Whiteman Avenue
Why is the city doing this project?
The goal of the Phase II project is to reduce the amount of raw sewage that overflows to the Tygart Valley River during heavy rainfall. Under a 2011 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a court ordered the city to take steps to reduce sewage overflow events.
How will this project benefit Elkins residents and businesses?
In addition to reducing overflow events, the Phase II project will also improve stormwater drainage and reduce high standing water during heavy rainfall.
How much will this project cost?
The estimated cost of the Phase II project is $4.3 million.
How is this project being paid for, and will it affect sewer rates?
This project will be funded by issuing municipal bonds, or financial instruments through which investors essentially lend money to a municipality to be repaid over a set period of time. The initial bond issue will be funded by a program of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection called the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
The cost of this project is reflected in the sewer rates that became effective in March 2020. This project will not trigger any further rate increase.
Why do we need to borrow money for this project? What about funds left over from the construction of the new water plant? What about sales tax proceeds?
Under state law, sewer and other utilities must be run as standalone businesses. Their only allowed source of funding is the rates paid by their customers. In other words, sewer projects like this one can only be paid for by raising sewer rates. It would be illegal to use money from the Water Fund or the General Fund (e.g., sales tax proceeds).
Who is in charge of this project?
In Elkins, a governing body called the Sanitary Board oversees the wastewater system and wastewater treatment plant. The board has three members, the mayor and two city residents appointed by the Elkins Common Council. Although the Elkins council must approve sewer rate increases, council has no authority over the Sanitary Board, which is an entirely independent body.
Because the board has only one area of responsibility, its members are able to concentrate on and build expertise concerning this complex and highly regulated subject. And because two of the members are not subject to election, there is less chance of undue political influence.
How did you choose what streets to focus on during this phase of the project?
Our engineering firm chose these streets based on their cost/benefit ratio. The goal of the project is to maximize the amount of stormwater that can be diverted from our wastewater system for the dollars spent. (Click here to see a map of the streets that will be affected by the Phase II project.)
How will sewer customers be affected by this project?
The impacts of the sewer/stormwater separation project will vary by street but can be expected to include changes to traffic and parking patterns and the presence of heavy equipment; this project is not projected to disrupt any customer’s sewer service, however.
Who will be doing this work? Will they need to come inside my house?
A company called Bear Contracting will be performing this work. There should not be any need for Bear Contracting to access the inside of any homes or other buildings in the course of this project. In the case of any exceptions, property owners and/or occupants will be contacted by City of Elkins personnel, who wear uniforms and carry official city photo identification cards.
If you have any questions or concerns about the legitimacy of anyone claiming to be involved with this project, please contact the City of Elkins Operations Department: 304.636.1414, ext. 1437. In an emergency, call 911.