Friday, May 3, 2013

Because of Public Works

The City of Clinton will celebrate National Public Works Week during the week of May 20th, 2013.  Public Works Week is an annual national celebration which began in 1960 to recognize the tens of thousands of men and women in North America who provide and maintain the infrastructure and services collectively known as public works. In Clinton, public works includes streets, sanitation, parks, water treatment, water distribution, sewer, storm sewer, and the electric utility. Our public works employees are dedicated to improving the quality of life for present and future generations in Clinton, South Carolina.  Because of Public Works, we enjoy clean water, reliable power, and safe clean communities.

Public Works in our city is a vast unnoticed and unseen infrastructure system. Thirty-eight employees, 38 of your neighbors, work every day to maintain 75 miles of electric distribution lines, 101 miles of underground water lines, 63 miles of underground sewer lines, 53 miles of storm sewer lines, and 81 miles of city owned streets. If you laid our infrastructure system out end to end, it would stretch from downtown Clinton, across the Blue Ridge Mountains, past Asheville’s famous Biltmore House, over the Appalachian Mountains, over the Eastern Continental Divide, and end in Nashville Tennessee. We would even be able to light your five hour drive from Clinton to Nashville with 1,300 streetlights, conveniently placed every third of a mile along the way. Along the way you might pass our garbage truck leading a caravan of tractor trailers because the 3,340 tons of waste we create each year that our sanitation crews transport away from our homes would fill 133 tractor trailer trucks.

It’s a big system, that for most us, we only notice when a part of the system breaks down. When the lights go out, when the water tastes funny, when there is that weird sewage smell in your neighborhood, when a work site slows down traffic,  or when one of our over 4,000 garbage cans gets missed; that’s when we notice public works. But outside agencies such as the American Public Power Association and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control have recognized the city through a variety of awards and recognition for the safety, quality, and reliability of our public works program.

It’s a big system that is not without challenges. Some of the water lines in our city are approaching 100 years old. We have infiltration of rainwater into our sewer system that increase the costs associated with sewer treatment. The cost of transporting and disposing of garbage, leaves, grasses, limbs, and other residential debris is increasing as the cost of the fuel to power the trucks that transport those items increases, and as the cost of paying a landfill or other facility to accept our waste increases. And you don’t need me to tell you about the condition of our roads, which in some parts of our city keep our local dentists busy replacing filings that are jolted out of our teeth by the humps, bumps, and potholes that plague our city streets.

The cost of maintaining our public works system is high, and the cost of replacing parts of the infrastructure is even higher. Public Works spending makes up 78% of the city budget and total almost $21 million dollars per year. We estimate that our roads will need an additional $5 million in cash to repair. SCDOT figures are even higher, with the estimate to mill, repair, and reconstruct a road coming at a cost of $325,000 per mile. Replacing a water line system in a neighborhood, including residential connections, fire hydrants, pipe replacement, removing roads and sidewalks, line installation, and replacing and repairing roads and sidewalks can creep upwards of $70 per foot. Sewer costs creep even higher depending on the size and depth of the pipe.

While there are challenges ahead for public works systems through the nation and especially right here in our city, our commitment to you remains constant. We will make your public works operate as efficiently as possible every day so that you and your children can enjoy the benefits that come from clean water, reliable power, and a high quality of public health that comes from working sewer and sanitation systems. We promise that when the lights go out, we will leave our families in the dark if we have to in order to get the lights back on for your family, we promise that your drinking water will be safe, we promise that you community will enjoy the high quality of public health that comes when sewer and sanitation systems work correctly, and we promise we will be good stewards of the money you invest in your public works facilities and infrastructure through your monthly payments of utility rates and through your annual tax payments.

We also promise that we will not ignore the condition of the system and we will work for ways to make it operate as efficiently as possible, but we know that as the cost of doing business goes up and the age of our infrastructure increases, the cost of keeping our system in good shape will increase as well. That’s where you come in. As owners of a vast public works system, you will be asked to help us determine what type of system you want, the quality of the system you desire, and how we pay for the system in the future to avoid passing on high replacement costs to the next generation. The cost of maintaining our aging infrastructure is rising faster than the resources we have available to maintain the systems are and ultimately, at some point, we must decide the level of service we expect and the level of service we are willing to fund.  

Quality public works is our promise to you.  As a society, we must promise our children that we will not saddle them with the problems of fixing our aging infrastructure, but instead we will leave them a system they can be proud of and that will meet their needs and our community’s needs for many years to come.