Harpers Ferry upgrades could cost $6M
HARPERS FERRY – Harpers Ferry loses between 41 and 62 percent of its publicly available water and will need to spend more than $6 million in upgrades to its aging system, according to a study prepared for the town that was released late last year.
[cleeng_content id="405467628" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Town officials say they are gearing up for an overhaul of the town’s infrastructure.
“I don’t think Harpers Ferry has faced this kind of a challenge in recent memory,” Mayor Greg Vaughn. “It is hitting us at a bad time. You have the economy the way it is, and we’ve been putting Band-Aids on the system for a generation at least.”
Vaughn said the town’s aging water system, with some sections of plumbing that are nearly a century old, has become a major thorn in the side, with leaks and other problems popping up regularly.
“We are basically sticking our fingers in dikes all over Harpers Ferry,” he said. “The water system we have is very antiquated. We are constantly dealing with major issues.”
The November report, completed by the engineering firm Gwin, Dobson and Foreman, called for major overhauls of nearly every portion of the town’s water infrastructure: abandoning and replacing four miles of water mains, installing new filtration systems and pumps at the Harpers Ferry Water Works plant and shoring up the town’s system of fire hydrants: installing new ones, repairing old ones and adding booster pumps to maintain pressure.
The report indicates that there is a very high rate of water loss in Harpers Ferry, which it says is indicative of system leakage, inaccurate meters or overflows at the water tank. While most water systems lose 15 to 30 percent of their water between the plant and water users, the Harpers Ferry system loses much more — between 41 and 62 percent.
The town, Vaughn said, is dealing with the legacy of consistently keeping water rates below the level needed to keep up with the system’s deterioration.
“We may have been keeping rates down, but we were also putting band-aids on all the problems,” he said. “When you keep the water rates down, your revenue stays down and you have no funds to take on major projects. And now a lot of that is coming back on us.”
Barbara Humes, chair of the Harpers Ferry Water Commission, agreed that system renovations have been pushed back for too long.
“A number of years ago a study was done, and it described numerous serious problems with the water system,” she said. “But at the time the town didn’t take action.”
“Putting off the project is not an option,” she said. “There is no half-stepping it. If we don’t do the project the problems will continue to mount. The PSC has it within their rights to take over and shut down any plant that is not up to par, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
This will mean increased water rates, at first just to cover maintenance costs, and later to pay off the large loans the town is seeking in order to finance the project.
“Our rates as they are are very good, but we will have to raise them to cover our operating costs,” Humes said. “And as we move forward with our application package and look at the best kind of loan we can get, we’ll know better how our rates will have to be adjusted to cover our project costs.”
The town is unlikely to be able to obtain substantial grant funding in order to cover the upgrades, officials said.
“Because Harpers Ferry, compared to the rest of West Virginia, is considered to have a high per capita income … our town does not qualify for an outright grant,” Humes said.
“There are a lot more needy municipalities out there that are in equally dire straits,” he said.
Humes said she thinks there is growing acknowledgement among the citizens of the town that the expensive repairs will have to come soon.
“Everyone understands that it is desperately needed,” she said. “We all know that when we turn on the faucet we want good, clean water to come out of it.”