Mistake leads to higher bills for wastewater

Updated: 2013-07-01T18:22:19Z

The Johnson County Commission should have followed the lead of Ed Peterson several years ago.

The longtime commissioner voted against approving a $15.4 million sewer district expansion in southern Johnson County. Developers wanted the new sewers so they could start building houses later this decade.

But Peterson accurately contended the county was supporting leapfrog development, rather than encouraging more infill development.

Fast forward to 2013, and here’s the situation.

The cost of the sewer expansion project — which all commissioners but Michael L. Ashcraft endorsed over Peterson’s objections — has ballooned to more than $26 million. And county wastewater customers will be paying for that increase.

Bills will be $3.55 higher a year for more than 100,000 wastewater customers.

Expenses have soared because of several factors. Different kinds of tunnels need to be built to complete the project, partly to protect a conservation easement. Commissioners rightly were upset about the rising costs, which wastewater officials said were unusual.

The commission recently voted to proceed with the project, despite the higher tab. Peterson reluctantly agreed, saying the county needed to keep its original commitment.

This week, Peterson said in an interview that the county should learn some lessons from the troubled sewer expansion. The county should put more of the cost burden on the developer, he said. That would protect wastewater ratepayers and help ensure that developers don’t try to take advantage of the county’s eagerness for new housing.

Those are excellent points. This time the commission should listen to Peterson.

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