WOOD RIVER — When the city earlier this year raised rates for its water and sewer services, tackling an aging pipe system was one of the primary targets identified for use of the extra revenue.
Now, addressing that infrastructure has come into the city’s sights.
Wood River Public Services Director Steve Palen said Tuesday he would like to start the conversation about rehabbing the city’s sewer system, even if corrective action is still down the road. Palen said he hopes to meet with a company in the next few weeks to discuss putting together a comprehensive plan that will guide the city through what he said will be years’ worth of projects.
“It’s going to take a while,” Palen said of the potential rehabilitation. “It’ll still be ongoing when I retire.”
The sewers have been at the center of discussion in recent months, and the increased prevalence of sinkholes around the city — workers recently repaired a sinkhole at the intersection of North Second Street and East Ferguson, and Palen said they’ve had approximately 60 sinkholes already this year — has only made Palen more eager to get started with upgrades. Palen said sealing the city’s manholes to ensure there are no leaks is among the first priorities.
“Although our city is (relatively) small, we’ve got a lot of manholes,” Palen said, noting that there are more than 1,100 manholes throughout the city. “We’ve probably got twice as many as any other town our size.”
Such projects wouldn’t have been possible without the recent raise in water and sewer rates. In March, the council, by a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Frank Akers casting the deciding vote, approved raising the rates. At the time, Palen said he couldn’t find a documented sewer rate increase in over three decades, and the water rate had only been raised once in his 12 years with the city.
Being able to undertake major infrastructure projects like this was the driving force behind his desire to see the rates increased, Palen said.
“For me, it was the main reason,” he said. “That, and at some point having to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant.”
Other area municipalities, including Bethalto, recently began the process of addressing aging sewer pipes as well. Like Bethalto, Palen said the city would likely consider cured-in-place pipe technology. The process allows for reinforcement of old pipes without having to tear up roads and physically replace old lines.
Palen said he hopes to present some more concrete numbers to the city council at its Sept. 19 meeting, with hopes of being given the go-ahead to move forward with planning.