Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, Aug. 14 newspaper on Page A1.

The estimated construction cost of the Route 50W sanitary sewer project has risen by nearly $6 million, prompting the Athens County Commissioners to seek additional federal funding for the project.

At their meeting Tuesday, the commissioners authorized submission of paperwork to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to seek funding to cover the increased cost estimate.

Commissioner Lenny Eliason said a grant will be sought, but it is more likely that the county would get a combination grant and loan increase. Loan repayment will be factored into customer’s sewer bills. The project will provide sanitary sewer service to the subdivisions along Route 50 west of Athens and to some nearby areas.

Eliason said the nearly $20.8 million construction cost estimate has risen of $26.6 million, and the $28.6 million overall cost estimate for the project has risen to $34.5 million.

Eliason was asked how the increased cost of the project would impact affordability.

“It’s testing the upper limit,” Eliason responded. “It’s right at the upper limit now. We can’t afford any more costs.”

Eliason said that even if the additional USDA money is just a loan and no additional grant funds are received, the project should still fall within what the USDA considers affordable for sewer customers.

“As long as it stays within their criteria, we’re going to move forward,” Eliason said.

The county would be able award a construction contract if it receives a bid that is no more than 10 percent of the construction cost estimate. The project has not yet been put out to bid.

The Messenger has reported that the USDA earlier agreed to provide $14.3 million in grant funds and a 40-year, $14.5 million loan at 2 percent interest toward the overall project cost.

Eliason said one reason for upping the cost estimate is that the bidding environment seems higher, and another is that road repairs will be handled differently. The original plan was to patch the trenches cut in roadways for the sewer line. That will still be the case with county roads impacted by the project, but the patching will be thicker, Eliason said. In the case of township roads damaged by the sewer project, repairs will be done with the end result being a complete overlay of pavement in the damaged areas, not just patching the trenches.

The Athens Twp. trustees wanted the overlay, not just patching. Trustee Ted Linscott said the roads are in good shape, and the township has put a lot of effort and spent its limited resources to keep them that way. He said the Alexander Twp. trustees also favored overlay rather than patching, and representatives of the two townships met with the project engineer to express their concerns.

In a meeting in March with the commissioners, a Highland Park subdivision resident said she believed patching the roads would hurt property values in the subdivision.

Project Engineer Kyle Schwieterman said the increased cost of pipe due to inflation also is a factor in upping the construction estimate.; Twitter @SteveRmessenger

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