Charleston City Council members approved a bond issue of up to $155 million for the Charleston Water System during the Nov. 10 meeting, though, according to Chief Executive Kin Hill, the utility’s immediate needs were $128.4 million.
Of this latter amount, $43.4 million would refinance existing bonds and the $85.1 million balance would finance new projects.
The refinancing was motivated by present low interest rates. The bonds to be refinanced bear an annual interest rate of 5.25 percent. The Charleston Water System estimates the savings over the life of the bonds to be between $3.5 million and $4 million.
As for the bonds issued to finance new construction, the rates vary between 0.3 percent and 3.74 percent. These are the lowest rates on tax-exempt bonds in more than 20 years, Charleston Water System officials said.
Hill also noted that construction costs had also fallen with the recession so the timing of the new construction projects was propitious.
The new projects include:
- West Ashley Sewer Tunnel replacement – $51 million;
- Ashley River 24” Water Main Crossing Replacement – $134.5 million;
- Bees Ferry Road Water Storage Complex – $5 million;
- Hanahan Waste Treatment Plant Stoney Filter Rehabilitation – $3 million;
- Sewer Pump Station #77 Rehabilitation – $3 million;
- SCDOT/Roadwise Water Main Relocations – $2 million; and
- SCDOT/Roadwise Sewer Main Relocations – $2 million.
The urgent need for the first and most costly project was stressed by Hill. The tunnel represents the last stage of the utility’s Sewer Tunnel Replacement projects.
The existing tunnel was built more than 40 years ago and is in bad shape. It links the sewage collection in the West Ashley area and parts of Johns and James islands to the Plum Island treatment plant.
The new tunnel will parallel the path of the old tunnel and will be approximately 100 feet underground.
Hill stressed the consequences of not replacing the existing tunnel. He showed photographs of the deterioration and warned of sewer overflows throughout the entire tunnel service area.
Hill also warned of raw sewage in the Ashley and Stono rivers, and potential public health threats. It would be an environmental catastrophe, he said.
If the existing tunnel is in such poor shape, and the photographs suggested it is, one wonders why the Charleston Water System has waited so long to replace it?
And indeed if there were a failure with the consequences that CWS fears, the fury of citizens would be intense, probably with political ramifications.
In line with the urgency, the Charleston Water System stated that most of the design work had been completed on the tunnel and construction could begin early next year. The other projects, however, were not so far advanced.
Council’s approval was unanimous.
Marc Knapp is a contractor specializing in heavy underground utilities and the owner of Charleston Site Utilities.