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Estimates for Devola sewer project not pretty, but necessary

For those of you losing sleep over the upcoming sewering of Devola, you’re not alone.

As a resident there, I’ve long felt that knowing some numbers and cost estimates associated with the project would make me feel better. I could prepare, mentally and financially. The opposite is true. I don’t feel better at all.

After years of murky estimates from both our officials and broader resources (one website told me the cost to sewer a home ranged from $1,000 to $40,000, which was so, so helpful), I felt the newspaper needed to present a clearer financial picture the best we could. I assigned a reporter to put all the project costs and numbers together in one story, break them down and explain them, providing clarity about which were one-time and upfront costs and which would be paid back over decades.

We ran a story on Nov. 22 that gave cost estimates for homeowners for the two project scenarios, both upfront and over 30 years (the story is still available at mariettatimes.com). A staff reporter worked with all the numbers that have been supplied, some that are fixed and known (such as the one-time tap fee of $4,060 in Washington County) and gave the best estimates on construction and other costs from reputable sources.

I can understand why our commissioners haven’t wanted to put concrete numbers out there when so much is still undecided. They have only an estimate for their project cost, dependent on the financing and grants they’re able to obtain, and which type of system the EPA will approve. It hasn’t yet been determined by the EPA if the county will take on the entire project, including connecting to each home, or just put in the main lines. There are variables and the numbers our reporter landed on are just estimates, but I felt it was important to put those out there and that the newspaper try to fill in the informational gaps as best as possible.

If the scenario is put in place that the commissioners put in only the main lines and leave the rest to residents, individual costs will vary based on property size and other factors. We made it clear in the story that these were estimates only, based on the best information currently available. After so much uncertainty, and a public meeting this fall that left residents with more questions than answers, we thought it was vital, and our responsibility as a community newspaper, to break down the numbers and give people as clear a picture as possible. I know the numbers are painful, believe me.

There has been both gratitude and criticism of the story–gratitude for spelling out all possible costs in one place and criticism that there are still too many unknowns for truly accurate estimates. But the most recent timeline given by the commissioners has residents of Lawton Road connecting their homes in 2020, which starts in just weeks. In my opinion, estimates are very late, not early, and a “We don’t know” will no longer suffice for an answer on cost. For several years, information being shared in the county had a homeowner cost estimate of $5,000. Now that we’ve looked at all the aspects of the project, picked apart and put back together the numbers, we know that was never a reliable estimate, given that $4,060 tap fee. Are we to expect that it will cost just $940 to trench under a home’s foundation, install a sewer lateral, install new plumbing lines and decommission a septic system? Not to mention the new annual costs for sewer usage and a share in the county portion of the project.

We felt it was critical to dispel that cost myth so people can be as financially prepared as possible. The commissioners themselves have said that this project will be “financially devastating” for many, and they’re right.

I’m not even one of those in the population we’re all probably worried about the most–retired and on a fixed income. However, I work a full-time job and a part-time job just to scrape together a living. I live within my means. My only debt is my mortgage, my car is a 2002 Toyota with manual windows and locks, my phone is six years old, I’ve had my TV (yes, just one) for two decades, I keep my heat only between 55 and 60 (and I’m cold!) and I actually use the coupons on those ridiculous quarter-mile long CVS receipts. I do this and have done this for a long time so I can have some savings for emergencies, maybe for retirement someday. And now I feel like my choice to be fiscally responsible is being taken from me. I’ll have to pay these massive prices–at least $66,00 per household by our most recent estimates, and possibly more. It will take all I’ve worked so hard for and then some.

I could sell my house, but I would take a loss since I haven’t been there long enough to have paid a great amount into it. And who wants to buy a house in Devola while this process is going on anyway?

It’s a puzzle that’s pretty impossible to solve, and I know I’m far from alone. Many of us have a story like this. We’re all going to be greatly affected. Some may have to forego health care, or decide whether to eat one month or pay all their bills on time. As a college-educated, full-time worker I could find myself in that position.

Those who are retired and in their 60s and 70s can possibly get a part-time job or freelance work to help with the extra expense, but what about those in their 80s and 90s? Do we expect them to do that?

The county commissioners knew this all along, and that’s a big reason why they fought the EPA on whether sewering had be done, taking it all the way to court before ultimately losing. We’re at the point now where this will happen, and all our fears and anxieties don’t matter. Now I just hope that our local officials will continue to think of us.

The fight’s not over. I would ask them to fight for every dollar, fight for the funding scenario that people can most live with, and support us by giving as much information as possible as soon as possible.

And as your community newspaper, we will continue to try to fill in any gaps in that information and to make sure residents are in the know.

While many of you, like me, may have great anxiety because of this information, we need to have it. Knowing these estimates hasn’t made me feel better but it’s made me feel more informed, empowered and ready to take the actions needed to make sure I can sleep again at night. I hope it helps some of you as well.

Kate York is the news editor of The Marietta Times. She can be contacted at kyork@mariettatimes.com

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