Rome water and sewer department building up a reserve to help with reverse osmosis facility financing

Sunday, Apr. 9, 2023–1:30 p.m.

-David Crowder, WRGA News-

As legal action taken by the City of Rome against several chemical and carpet manufacturers makes its way through the court system, the City of Rome Water and Sewer Department cannot wait on the outcome to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS.

The so-called forever chemicals, widely used to make carpets and other items stain resistant, have been linked to numerous adverse health impacts and break down very slowly, so they persist in the environment for a long time.

Rome began the process of converting its raw water intake filtering facility for “reverse osmosis” treatment in 2016 following health advisories issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding PFAS. The advisory had a limit of 70 parts per trillion.

More recently, the EPA announced new proposed legal limits for PFAS at just four parts per trillion. That could leave many smaller water systems struggling to meet the new standards. However, Rome is ahead of the curve after implementing a rate increase. They have also started building up a fund balance in preparation for the construction of a new “reverse osmosis” facility to deal with PFAS in the Oostanaula River.

Rome has sued to recover the costs, but will likely have to construct the facility using bonds.

Mike Hackett

“The reserve fund would show investors in the bond market that Rome is a safe, good bet,” said Rome Water and Sewer Director Mike Hackett. “The more cash you have on hand, and the more you are willing to raise rates in order to do what must be done to protect their investment dollars, the lower the interest rate we pay.”

Over the course of 20 years, that can add up to tens of millions of dollars in savings on interest.

“You get one shot to lock into that rate,” Hackett continued. “You see it now in the housing market where someone who bought a house a year ago is paying half of what someone who buys a house today would pay because of the interest rate. What we are trying to do is not get caught on the wrong end of that pendulum.”

Even if Rome is victorious in its civil action, it could still be some time before the city sees any of the money.

“They could appeal it,” Hackett stressed. “However, we have a timeline with the EPA. Right now, the trial date is set for Jun. 5. I’d like to think in a month or two we might know for sure, but it’s not like you walk out of court and there is a big check waiting for you. It just doesn’t work that way. Still, we have to get moving if we are going to meet these deadlines.”

The EPA anticipates finalizing the new regulation by the end of 2023.

In March, a $585,000 contract for phase one of the reverse osmosis facility project was awarded to Archer Western, who will be the construction manager at risk. Phase one will include the development of a guaranteed maximum price, which should be known in July or August.

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