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Upgrading Sewer System Could Triple Fort Smith Customers’ Bills By 2026

FORT SMITH (KFSM) – The average Fort Smith water and sewer bill may triple over the next 12 years to bring the city in compliance with federal clean water laws,...

FORT SMITH (KFSM) – The average Fort Smith water and sewer bill may triple over the next 12 years to bring the city in compliance with federal clean water laws, city officials said Tuesday night at the Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting.

While city directors are scheduled to set definitive rate structures in the coming months, projections of the city plan shows an average increase from $40 to $80 for the average local household’s water and sewer bill by 2019. The projections show that number tripling to $120 by 2026.

The water and sewer rate increase would cover the costs needed to bring the city into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. It would go toward upgrading and maintaining improvements to the city’s sewer system, city officials said.

The total cost of the plan may reach $480 million over the next 12 years. Definitive numbers may be approved by city directors in the spring of 2015.

City administrators have been meeting with members of the Environmental Protection Agency over the last few months to craft a plan to get the city in compliance with the Clean Water Act, after the EPA alleged Fort Smith broke several aspects of the federal law.

City administrators have been working with the U.S. Department of Justice and the EPA over the last eight years in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act after environmental officials complained of sewage overflows during episodes of heavy rainfall because of the city’s decades-old sanitation system.

The wet weather overflows of sewage in Fort Smith are caused by rainwater entering the sewer system through defected manholes and underground pipes. The rainwater overwhelms the capacity of the sewer system, causing untreated sewage to overflow from the system, according to the city.

Initial negotiations over the city’s compliance with federal laws broke down two months ago, causing officials to prepare in September and October for a lawsuit that never came. Negotiations later picked back up between the two entities, and now city leaders say they are doing everything they can to fix the overflow system and follow the law.