Commentary

Now what

Okay, we have a red water solution, so where do we go from here?

It turns out there is an easy fix to Rockdale’s at-least-60-decades-old “red water” problem. Easy if you have $29.7 million.

That’s the amount out of a total $44-million improvement package an engineering firm has determined will eliminate the wash day anxieties and bathtubs-full-of-muck with which Rockdalians have dealt since the Eisenhower Administration.

This is hardly a surprise. Six years ago a similar study pegged the red-water fix cost at $25.5 million. Things get more expensive over time.

Lion’s share of that cost is to replace 148,000 linear feet of water mains. That means digging up the old cast iron and cement pipes and installing modern PVC.

Cast iron flakes off over time—some of the pipe has been down there since the Wright Brothers’ first flight—and PVC doesn’t.

Also, the pipe that’s in the ground has joints that are creakier than grandpa’s rocking chair. They are mostly made out of rubber and some of them out of lead.

There are lots of other tasks to be accomplished when you replace an entire water system. Water treatment plants need to be upgraded or replaced entirely.

Water lines that “dead end” need to be connected at both ends. There would need to be new fire hydrants. You can read about the details on page 1A.

In a way, that’s the good news. Because the city’s equally old sewer system also has major issues. The same study targets the price tag to address those at $12.6-million. There’s a two-percent “inflationary rate” figured in for years 2018 and 2019, making the grant total $44-million

Do we see people at city council meetings asking the sewer system be fixed? Not yet.

Will we see that if the ancient clay—yes, clay— sewer pipes in east Rockdale totally fail and sewers back up over half the town? That question answers itself.

In the words of the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, discussing the federal budget: “You spent a billion dollars here and a billion dollars there and, pretty soon, that runs into real money.”

$44-million isn’t a billion but for Rockdale rate payers it’s most definitely “real money.”

So how do we get the money, or part of it? You already know the answer to that.

It’s estimated just to fund $10-million in improvements would generate increases of $50 to $60 in water bills. How many people on fixed incomes simply could not afford that? Plenty.

The alternative would be some kind of bond program. Guess who pays for that? Another question with an obvious answer. Rockdale taxpayers.

There are no good solutions in sight. Grants? Yes, the city has received some and is applying for more. Those aren’t free. They come with local matches attached.

What’s going to happen next is that city council members will have to decide what projects from this $44-million list need to addressed first and how will a city which has just lost its largest employer try to pay for them?

This isn’t a request which usually gets made in an editorial, but if there was ever a time our city leaders need our prayers for guidance, this is it.—M.B.


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2017-11-23 digital edition

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