City sounds alarm as development pressures peak

The Oxford Eagle By Lucy Schultze
July 21, 2004

The brewing crisis over how city streets and pipes can keep pace with exploding demand from new apartments and condos erupted with a new urgency Tuesday evening.

City leaders narrowly stopped short of simply halting water and sewer service to new developments outside city limits until they can get a handle on the crisis.

“We’re going to keep approving them and then we’re going to flood with you-know-what,” warned Ward 1 Alderman Pat Patterson, proposing a 60-day moratorium on approving such development. “I’m pretty sure we ought to step back and take a breather.”

Aldermen Ulysses “Coach” Howell and Richard DeVoe supported the idea, with aldermen Bill Baker, E.O. Oliver and Janice Antonow voting against it.

Mayor Richard Howorth broke the tie, saying there would just be that many more projects waiting for city boards at the end of the 60 days. Instead, city leaders will sit down with public works officials in the next week to gauge the problem and weigh their options.

“We’re almost certainly going to reach capacity before we have new wastewater facilities — unless we get some big-time help from an outside source,” Howorth said.

Outpacing improvements

The current crisis began building in the early spring, when engineering officials confirmed that parts of the city’s sewer system were being pushed to their limits by the dramatic growth in west Oxford.

The most urgent problem is that some pipes are too small to handle their load, but a major expansion of the wastewater treatment plant is also needed.

It’s been more than a year since the development rate first started causing this concern, but officials kept thinking that the rate would surely decline. It hasn’t.

If the recent local 8 percent growth rate holds, the community is poised to double its population in a decade and become the fastest-growing in the state.

“New growth, and additions to the tax rolls, alone cannot support (road and utility) improvements because the rate is simply too dramatic,” Howorth said in a report to the board.

City Engineer David Bennett estimates it will cost some $12 million to expand the treatment plant, and another $3 million to $4 million to upgrade the main sewer lines. That’s why city leaders are now turning desperately to state and federal representatives for help.

State Sen. Gray Tollison said this morning there’s just an outside chance state funds might be found before the Legislature’s 2005 session begins in January.

“I don’t know if it’s possible, but we’re going to at least try and talk to the leadership in House and Senate and just explain to them,” he said. “Oxford is a beacon for the state, so it’s important not only for the city but for the state as well.”

Tollison said it’s possible he and Rep. Noal Akins could lobby on behalf of local needs sooner if Gov. Haley Barbour calls legislators back to consider bond bills in August or September.

City leaders have also met with U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s office and are planning meetings with Rep. Roger Wicker’s staff and Northern District Highway Commissioner Bill Minor.

Ward 5 Alderman Preston Taylor was absent from Tuesday’s meeting due to his father’s death.

In other business Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen:

Granted $4,000 from the tourism fund to help with publicity and other expenses for the Smithsonian Institution’s “Key Ingredients” exhibit at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center this fall.

Hired Daniels-Williams Engineering to design the Oxford Skate Park slated for the current location of the Dizzy Dean ballfield.

Commended city water, sewer and street departments for timely completion of the South Lamar sewer rehabilitation project.

Patterson said he’d honor his promise to take the city engineer and assistant out to dinner. Alderman-at-Large Baker and Howorth offered to take the 24 city workers out to lunch at one of the four South Lamar restaurants affected by the street work.

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