DU hopes to have almost 15 miles of sewer pipe replaced by end of year as fee increase looms

·3 min read

Dec. 3—A $165 million project replacing aging sewer pipe in Decatur to reduce overflows moved to West Moulton Street this week and is on track to finish almost 15 miles of pipe this year, but Decatur Utilities residential customers' sewer rates increase again next month to pay for the work.

Decatur Utilities plans to complete rehabilitation of approximately 79,000 linear feet of pipe this year as part of a 10-year project, according to Decatur Utilities spokesman Joe Holmes.

"We will be doing an additional 111,000 (linear feet) in 2022," a statement from Holmes said. "The plan is to rehabilitate 100,000 linear feet (18.9 miles) per year going forward."

The DU board was sued by the state in 2019 for sewer overflows and settled the claims for $118,000 in March. In December 2020 the board approved the plan to accelerate replacement of almost 1 million feet of deteriorating sewer lines and make other improvements to the sewer system. The City Council approved the replacement plan and resulting rate increases in January.

The monthly access fee for Decatur Utilities residential wastewater customers with a typical 5/8-inch meter increased $12 a month effective with February services and will increase another $6 beginning with January services to help pay the bond debt.

"The monthly access fee is currently $20 and will be $26 beginning in January," Holmes said.

Rates will rise another $4 monthly in 2023 to complete a $22 monthly increase phased in during three calendar years.

Rates also are increasing for business and industrial customers.

DU borrowed the $165 million on the bond market in March.

"The entire $165 million was borrowed at once to take advantage of historically low interest rates and to stabilize debt obligation for the life of the 30-year loan," Holmes said.

Decatur Utilities issued both tax-exempt and taxable bonds, with the true interest cost (TIC) ranging from 2.56% to 2.81%.

Holmes said that internal labor allocated to the project and invoices for contract labor and materials are being paid as work is completed.

"The bond should cover the expense of the 10-year plan, so as we bring in contractors, we'll allow bids on each phase of work," Holmes said. "The contractors bid on that and we hire the contractors based on what they bid."

Sewer overflows have declined in the most recent fiscal year. In the year ended Sept. 30, Decatur Utilities experienced 33 rain-induced sanitary sewer overflows. In the year ending Sept. 30, 2020, the utility experienced 109 sewer overflows.

According to the 2019 lawsuit by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the utility had more than 200 overflows between 2014 and May 2019 totaling more than 20 million gallons of sewage.

In the 12 months ending Dec. 18, 2019, DU experienced 69 overflows totaling 7.1 million gallons, according to its reports to ADEM.

Work on the sewer rehabilitation plan began in June when crews replaced sewer pipes in the neighborhoods around 11th Avenue Northwest and Canterbury Avenue Southwest.

Trey Hutchison, operations manager with Texas-based Vortex Services, said they will remain in Decatur for three more weeks working on the sewer rehabilitation project.

Work is scheduled to continue on West Moulton Street through next Friday. During that time, two westbound lanes on that street will be closed between 1520 W. Moulton St. and 22nd Avenue Northwest from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day.

Crews earlier replaced sewer pipes in areas around 12th Avenue Northwest, Marion Street Southwest, Thomas Drive Southwest, 12th Avenue Southwest, Second Street Southwest, and 14th Avenue Southwest.

—wesley.tomlinson@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438.

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