Allenville, Whitewater seek approval for joint sewage system

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two small villages in southwest Cape Girardeau County that banded together several years ago to build a jointly owned water system are hoping to expand their cooperation to sewage treatment.

Allenville, with a population of just more than 100, and Whitewater, with about 115 people, will hold separate votes April 8 on a proposal to issue $950,000 in revenue bonds to finance construction of a centralized sewage collection system. The planned project, with a total projected cost of $1.2 million, would bring sewage from both towns to a treatment plant near Allenville with the treated waste eventually being discharged into the Diversion Channel, said Phil Thompson, operator of the Whitewater-Allenville Cooperative Combined Waterworks and Sewage System.

Whitewater sits at the intersection of Route A and County Road 236. Allenville is about 1-1/2 miles to the southeast, at the intersections of County Roads 233, 238 and 241.

The reason for cooperation is simple: Neither town is big enough to support a sewer project, Thompson said. "Allenville and Whitewater are too small to do it on their own," he said.

Subject to final approval, the project would be supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency. The agency would buy the bonds and set the interest rate to be paid on the debt, said Phyllis Minner, area specialist with the USDA's Dexter, Mo., office.

If approved, the sewer system would be the first centrally collected waste treatment in the area.

The USDA is willing to invest in such systems, Minner said, to improve rural health, preserve clean water and make the area more attractive to investors.

"If you talk to health departments, it is very hard on small lots to get septic tanks to properly function," Minner said. "By having a centralized system, it keeps the environment cleaner, you have one discharge point that is regulated by the Department of Natural Resources and that should improve property values."

In Allenville, Thompson said, homes either have septic systems or "leach pipes" that allow the water from sewage to slowly seep into the surrounding soil. But at times, Thompson said, the systems are overloaded and the seepage reaches the surface.

If the sewer project is approved by voters and the financing proposal wins acceptance by the USDA, every home within 100 feet of the sewer main would be required to hook into the system, Minner said.

The costs of that initial hookup are included in the project's cost. Homes that have more than one discharge into a septic system, however, would have to consolidate the discharge line at the homeowner's expense, she said.

There will be a monthly fee for the sewage service based on water usage, Thompson said. Most homeowners in the two towns would pay from $30 to $50 a month for the sewage system.

The decision whether to issue the sewer bonds could be made by just a handful of people in each town. In the past three April elections, as few as six and as many as 11 voters have cast ballots in Whitewater. In Allenville, turnout was even lower, with as few as four and as many as eight voters taking part.

March 12 is the last day to register to vote in the April 8 election.

In addition to the bonds, the villages could be eligible for federal grants to make up the difference between the anticipated $1.2 million cost and the $950,000 in bonds being sought in the April 8 vote, Minner said. But she cautioned that neither the grants nor USDA participation in the project is a sure thing.

"We haven't completed our actual feasibility study for the project," she said. And the rural development program needs to work out legal issues, such as how the two towns can be made jointly liable for the debt if the USDA takes part.

Approval of the bond issue in both towns will be a signal to the USDA that the residents want to proceed, Minner said.

In addition to providing for the changeover from septic systems to centralized collection, the system will be designed to accommodate some growth in the area that could result from better waste treatment, Minner said. "We will finance enough for moderate, reasonable growth in that area."

A sewage system would mark another step in making the area more livable, Thompson said.

"We was just a little bitty village," he said. "Now we have blacktop through the towns, we have city water now and sewers will be available. Property values have got to go up."

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