Proposed $36 million sewer project could cause sanitation rate hikes

WHEATON – The Wheaton Sanitary District held its final community open house on May 22 to present plans for a sewer construction project that could cost between $36 and $45 million and cause sanitation rate increases for Wheaton and southern Carol Stream residents.

Sanitary District officials, board members and members of the engineering consulting firm Baxter & Woodman explained the latest iteration of the Northside Interceptor Sewer project to construct more than five miles of underground sewer across Wheaton and parts of Carol Stream. They addressed the questions of the 50 to 60 residents who attended. Concerns ranged from road closures and traffic problems to environmental effects to mail delivery.

"It's important to have these meetings," said Sanitary District Executive Director Steve Maney. "I've found the earlier we have these type of meetings and the earlier we get the information out there, the better."

Maney said that the vast majority of the plan to replace a system originally constructed in 1926 and updated in 1963 is still in flux. The route is nearly finalized, assuming various property owners allow construction on their property or other unforeseen developments, Maney said.

The overall cost – and cost to the residents – are also unclear at this stage of the process. The final price tag largely depends on construction techniques used and the possibility of cost-cutting measures such as construction partnerships with the city.

Currently, the sanitary district projects that the funding will come from governmental grants, low interest loans from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, bond sales and increased revenue from elevated sanitation rates.

Though specific rates would still depend on usage, the current projection for the rate increase is significant – around $26 a month to $52 a month. Maney and other officials stressed that that was not a hard number, but that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard affordability level for the service is around $61 a month. Maney said that as much as 70 percent of the funding might be generated from sources other than rate increases, offsetting part of the cost.

Maney said that the project was necessary not only because of an aging sewer system, but also to keep up with the increasing population density of the city and improve accessibility for his sanitation workers. The proposed project would almost double capacity, according to Project Engineer Shane Firsching.

"There are some spots in Lincoln Marsh that, even on a hot, dry day, some manholes are waist-deep, sometimes even shoulder-deep," Maney said. "In winter, all that can turn to ice."

Maney said one of the biggest benefits of the program will be the new roads and curbs along the route.

"If you live in Wheaton, you can pay your sewer bill and we can pave the street for you, or you can pay the city and they can pave the street for you," he said.

The final design for the project is expected in 2014, with construction to begin in 2015 and last seven to 10 years throughou the course of a number of phases.

Residents had mixed reactions to the potentially decade-long project, though most appreciated that the district had reached out to the community through letters and meetings.

"It's about getting the information, the facts, the schedule," said Doug Herzog, who lives on Childs Street, one of the streets that will see the most construction during the process. "But it sounds like they had to do something. I was telling [my neighbor at the meeting] that we just live at the wrong place – our street is the best route. It's just an annoyance."