Huntington, West Virginia, is planning a $200 million sewer modernization project after multiple violations

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – After a long string of fines and repeated water quality violations, the Huntington Sanitary Board is planning a series of facility upgrades to the city’s nearly 100-year-old sewage system, which is nearing capacity.

The city says the multiple fines imposed for these violations are a direct result of the city’s “antiquated system and deteriorating infrastructure.”

According to the Huntington Sanitary Board, the city was subpoenaed 143 times between 2015 and 2021 for violations of its water conservancy permit for “excessive discharge from the sewage treatment plant.” The board says these discharges are due to the facility operating at or near full capacity.

“Inaction is not an option,” Mayor Steve Williams said. “We delayed this for too long and kicked the can out onto the street instead of tending to our decaying sewage and stormwater systems.”

The city says the HSB approved the proposed infrastructure upgrades at a regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 10, and the City Council Finance Committee voted to present the project to the full council on Nov. 14. The Council plans to hold a first reading tonight. Monday 28 November with a vote expected in mid-December.

The Huntington Sanitary Board says the $200 million project will be paid for primarily through state and federal grants and loans, including grants from the American Rescue Plan Act.

However, to cover the cost of repaying the loans to support the project, customers will see a “phased increase” in their usage fees that will be rolled out over a number of years. City officials say the “staged fee increase” will eventually increase customers’ minimum bills by $27.20 a month.

“This unique opportunity to access $40 million in grants and $160 million in soft loans will ensure Huntington can create its own future so that the city and region can thrive while protecting our children and families Families can stay healthy and healthy to ensure critical public infrastructure can serve us for another 50 years,” Williams said.

According to the board, part of the project will involve separating the lines at 3rd and 5th Avenues to reduce the risk of flooding along major corridors through the city and improve public safety.

“Huntington’s flooding woes are well documented,” said Brian Bracey, executive director of the Huntington Water Quality Board (HWQB), including the Huntington Sanitary Board (HSB). “It takes as little as an inch of rain per hour to flood our streets – and the combined overflow of rainwater and sewage poses significant safety risks, from submerged vehicles to potentially life-threatening delays in emergency vehicle response times.”

According to the Board, the current wastewater treatment plant operates at a BOD capacity of 98% and was last significantly upgraded in the 1980s. Officials say the restriction could affect the city’s ability to connect new businesses, homes, industries, churches, schools, etc. to the sewage system.

Between 2015 and 2021, the sewage system has suffered other penalties in addition to the 143 summonses for dry-weather discharges, mostly caused by failed pumps or line blockages that result in raw sewage being dumped onto the ground or into streams. The board says each time these discharges occurred, the city was reported for “failure to adequately maintain an overflow of the combined sewage system,” which is a requirement of the city’s Long-Term Control Plan (LTCP).

According to the board, the allowable number of discharges allowed by the LTCP is 42 per seven-year period. During that period, the board admitted that there were 489 layoffs. In December 2021, the city was fined more than $325,000 by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and received multiple fines from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

If the city’s sewage system isn’t brought into line, it faces a takeover by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the Huntington Sanitation Board.

“Our choice is clear,” said Jim Rorrer, vice chairman of the HWQB. “Continue with the status quo and escalating threats to public health, safety and local self-government – or band together as a community and make a critical investment in HD’s future – on our own terms.”