Expensive, yes, but it's necessary

It looks like it’s going to cost a little more than $23 million to improve and ensure Wrangell’s drinking water quality for years to come. The work will include construction of a new water treatment building, new filtration and disinfection systems, and expanded production capacity to meet future demand growth.

The money will cover the construction contract awarded by the borough assembly on Oct. 10, plus design costs and also inspection fees to make sure the job is done right.

Yes, it’s a lot of money, but it’s an absolutely necessary expense. Delaying the work and putting off spending the money is not going to help keep clean water flowing into homes and businesses.

Borough officials over the years have assembled quite the collection of funding sources, pulling in as many state and federal dollars as possible to lower the cost to Wrangell water utility customers.

The assortment of funding sources includes more than $13.6 million in state and federal grants (mostly federal dollars), and $9.6 million in loans (again, mostly federal, with the state agreeing to forgive $500,000 of its loan). And though the borough will need to pay back those loans, the long terms of 20 to 40 years and low interest rates ranging from 1.725% to 2.625% help make the payments manageable for the community.

Besides paying back the loans over the next two to four decades, the borough’s only cash contribution is drawing $119,000 from water utility reserves to complete the financing package for the work.

It’s hard to call a $23 million project a bargain, but the preponderance of grant money and the affordability of long-term, low-interest loans make it easily more manageable than what could have been an immediate and steep increase in water rates if the entire bill had gone to ratepayers.

The borough faces at least two more similar, large-cost projects in the years ahead: Rebuilding the rot-damaged Public Safety Building, and installing a disinfection system for the water that comes out of the town’s sewage treatment plant before it is discharged into Zimovia Strait. Both could be in the $10 million to $20 million range, and both are needed. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Here’s hoping that the City Hall crew’s hard work — and good fortune — can continue to round up state and federal money for the next two projects. Much of the public may complain about state and federal spending, but sometimes it’s just best to say thank you.

— Wrangell Sentinel


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