Archive for the ‘Sewer Crisis’ Category

>Sewer debt is your responsibility

March 14, 2011

>There was an article in the Birmingham News recently in which the Jefferson County sewer crisis was covered. In the article John S. Young was quoted as saying that Jefferson county sewer customers could expect double digit rate increases (even as high as 25%) to deal with the sewer debt. Young is the court appointed receiver handling the case. He has the power to raise rates and increase revenue to pay off the debt.

I have stated before that this debt is not the responsibility of just the sewer customers, and gave a reason suggesting that so called non-user fees are one way to increase revenue. More on this later.

There is another reason that all the citizens of Jefferson County, not just he sewer users, should contribute to paying off the debt. This debt was amassed as a result of poor decisions and unethical dealings by elected officials and their staffs (and some are paying the price). Those elected officials were put in place by all the (voting) citizens of Jefferson County, and like it or not, we must also pay the price for our poor decision in elected those corrupt and inept officials.

Here is the Western Tribune column in which I suggested non-user fees were proper. This is a public health issue, and all residents benefit from the sewer, whether they are hooked up to the system or not.

When this column ran, someone asked for an example of harm resulting from a septic tank. Here is an example; a septic tank was the source of a Norwalk virus outbreak that affected 135 people in South Dakota, as mentioned in this article. So yes, septic tanks can contribute to disease outbreaks.

Someone else mentioned that they pay (taxes) for local schools even though they have no children in the schools. Is that a non-user fee that we are paying? We all benefit from an educated public (just as we all benefit from the sewer system).

Cholera became the first reportable disease in the United States. Hundred of thousands of people in this country died from cholera during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Only after the connection between contaminated water (from sewage) and disease outbreaks was recognized were public health measures undertaken. With filtration and treatment of drinking water and disposal and treatment of waste in separated facilities Cholera became a non-threat in this country.

We take clean, uncontaminated drinking water for granted.

Everyone benefited from the public health measures put in place to control Cholera, and like wise, everyone benefits from the Jefferson County sewer system, whether your waste flows through it or not.

So there are two reasons why the responsibility for the debt should be spread among all the residents of the county, not just the sewer users. I wonder if Mr. Young will agree.

>Non-User Fees… Western Tribune column

February 18, 2009

>I like it when I can add visuals to my columns, and this week I have.

Think about this when you are in a conversation about the proposed sewer non-user fee.

Western Tribune column February 18, 2009

Sometimes there is a great misunderstanding that leads people to their opinions and this is the case with our sewer debt crisis. A web poll by this paper led me to write this column, which I am sure will be unpopular.

The question was whether non-sewer users should be charged a fee. Conventional wisdom says “Of course not.” But in reality, the benefits of the sewer system to non-users are worth much more than the $20 or $30 proposed fee.

In 1854 in London a cholera epidemic was underway, and a physician named John Snow discovered the source of contamination using epidemiologic methods.

A particular source of drinking water, the Broad Street Pump, was found to be the source, but ultimately the cause was contamination of drinking water with material from a cesspit. Cesspits were dug to collect wastes which were from time to time collected and removed.

Without our sewer system people in our county would be forced to use cesspits or outhouses for waste collection. Have you seen “Slumdog Millionaire?”

In one scene of the movie the waste collection system is seen and it’s not a pretty sight.

Without a sewer system, we might have something like that. Not all land is suitable for septic tanks, nor are they possible in the densely populated areas of the county.

The World Health Organization estimates that over 2 billion people in the world lack proper sanitation. One only has to look at the rate of diarrheal diseases and death, especially among children and women, in those areas to understand the importance of proper sanitation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “cholera was prevalent in the 1800s but has been virtually eliminated by modern sewage and water treatment systems.” In the past 100 years cholera has not been a threat in our country.

This is because of our sewer and wastewater treatment systems. Plus better understanding and education of the importance of hand washing and other sanitary procedures.

In view of the consequences, it seems that a few dollars is a small price to pay for the assurance that your baby or elderly parent won’t die the excruciating death that cholera causes.

The public, including sewer users and non-users, should reconsider their stance on this issue and be thankful for the benefits our system provides.

Now, about fairness of the current sewer rates, that is another story.

>The Sewer Mess

August 15, 2008

>The Jefferson County Commission has passed a resolution that will allow questions regarding the $3.2 billion sewer debt to be on the November ballot (thus creating longer lines and frustrated voters dealing with an issue that should have been solved long before the election).

This county commission does not inspire confidence. I went to the public hearing Wednesday night in Bessemer, with Bobby Humphryes and Jim Carns and here is what the title page of their power point presentation looked like.

Jefferson County, AL


Now I admit that more often that I like I misspell words on this blog, but when preparing a power point presentation I take extra steps to assure my spelling is correct. Presenation? Jeffrson?

Of the 150 or so people at the event, only a handful, probably less than 10, (other than elected officials) were black. Why? Because the event was sponsored by white Republican commissioners? Because they realize that their opinions do not matter to the commissioners that are supposed to serve them?

And probably less than 20 were under 35 years of age, and most were of retirement age. Why? Because everyone is affected by this, even those who are not rate payers. The cost will trickle down to everyone, in one way or another. Was it because young people do not watch the news? Or feel disenfranchised by the whole commission, which, unlike the mayor and council, seem far distant and in their own little world?

Anyway, now the commission has put forth a resolution which will allow the voters of the county to answer questions in November. This problem can not wait until November. But the questions will be there anyway. There is a poll over to the left where you can vote on these questions in essence. Please participate, voting is anonymous. Comments are welcome.

FIRST QUESTION Jefferson County confronts a crisis involving a sewer debt of $3.25 billion that was incurred under court order pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act. Which of the following courses of action should be taken by the county? Select One:

Attempt to implement a plan under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy law that would repudiate all or a significant part of the sewer debt.

Default on the payment of the sewer debt and accept the appointment of a receiver for the sewer system with power to raise sewer rates within the limits of the law to remedy such default.

Pay the sewer debt in full by reducing the amount payable from sewer revenues and using various tax revenues to pay a portion of the debt.

SECOND QUESTION The Jefferson County sewer system benefits the entire county by preventing the contamination of streams and assuring the sanitary treatment of waste in accordance with the environmental standards of the federal government. Health and recreational benefits accrue to citizens who do not directly use the system as well as to those who do. Is it fair for only those citizens directly using the sewer system to bear the entire burden of the cost?:



THIRD QUESTION The Retirement Systems of Alabama (“RSA“) has publicized a proposal that calls for Jefferson County to attempt the implementation of a plan under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy law which involves the repudiation of a major portion of the sewer debt and the sale of the sewer system to RSA.

(A) Since lowering the price to be paid by RSA will increase the remainder of the $3.25 billion in sewer debt that must be repudiated, what is the price that should be paid by RSA?:

$1 billion or more but less than $2.0 billion
$2.0 billion or more but less than $3.0 billion

(B) Should there by any restriction on the subsequent right of RSA to sell the sewer system to a private company?



(C) Should the county require indemnity from RSA or any subsequent purchaser for future liability arising under federal or state environmental laws?