CHESTER -- Fort Lawn is asking Chester County for $200,000 to avoid raising sewer rates for the town's 850 residents.
The town would use the money to pay back the city of Lancaster and the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District for their contributions to the $1.1 million project that will send the town's waste across a Catawba River railroad trestle to Lancaster's treatment facility.
If Fort Lawn doesn't get the money from Chester County, the town's sewer rates could increase by as much as 10 percent, town consultant and former Fort Lawn Mayor Pat Roddey told county leaders during their Monday night meeting.
The increase would come after sewer rates rose by more than 265 percent last year after Springs Global raised the cost of treating the town's wastewater at its Grace Complex off S.C. 9 in Lancaster County.
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That spike translated into increases of $5 a month for residents, $20 a month for commercial customers and $67.50 per month for industries.
The town's request is the latest development in a problem that has been brewing for more than a year.
In January 2007, Springs sent a letter to the town saying the company would stop treating Fort Lawn's sewage by 2010, but couldn't guarantee it would provide the service that long.
The letter also said Springs expected to reduce the volume of its industrial wastewater processed at the facility, meaning it would cost Springs more to treat Fort Lawn's wastewater, which it has done since 1979.
Springs closed its Grace site and the Close plant in Fort Lawn last year, but the company still takes care of the town's sewer needs.
Fort Lawn leaders have grappled with the situation, exploring options and getting estimates about where to send the town's sewage.
One early study found that connecting Fort Lawn to the Chester Metropolitan Water District -- about 9 miles away -- was the most reasonable sewer option, costing $3.2 million.
But the Lancaster plan, which the town chose to support in November, is significantly cheaper and relies heavily on the cooperation of a variety of stakeholders, including the state, the town of Fort Lawn, the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District, Springs Global and the L&C Railroad.
Some sewer lines will have to be installed, but most of the waste will travel through existing Springs pipes. Fort Lawn has committed $50,000 to the project, which Roddey said should be completed by mid-November.
The funding is in place, Roddey said, but receiving some cash from the county would spare Fort Lawn taxpayers an additional hike in sewer rates.
Chester County officials aren't sure if they can help the town yet. County Treasurer Jack Kindle is searching for what, if any, funds are available. He plans to share his findings at the April 7 County Council meeting.
Town leaders hope the county will approve the money.
"It would be extremely important," said Town Councilwoman Linda Roddey, who attended Monday's meeting along with Mayor Charles "Clif" Ferguson. "Not only in dollars and cents, but in knowing that our county is behind us and supports us."